White House says 9/11 war nod cov­ers ISIS fight

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - RICHARD LARD­NER AND JOSH LE­D­ER­MAN

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said Wed­nes­day that it has suf­fi­cient le­gal author­ity to use mil­i­tary force against the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria based on the 2001 law to counter al-Qaida.

In a let­ter to Congress, the ad­min­is­tra­tion said the au­tho­riza­tion for the use of mil­i­tary force that Congress passed af­ter the Sept. 11 ter­ror at­tacks grants the mil­i­tary the author­ity to de­fend U.S. and al­lied forces fight­ing Is­lamic State mil­i­tants. The ad­min­is­tra­tion said the author­ity ex­tends to the fight against al-Qaida and as­so­ci­ated forces, in­clud­ing the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“This le­gal author­ity in­cludes the 2001 Au­tho­riza­tion for the Use Mil­i­tary Forces which au­tho­rizes the use of mil­i­tary force against th­ese groups,” the ad­min­is­tra­tion said. “Ac­cord­ingly, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is not seek­ing re­vi­sions to the 2001 [au­tho­riza­tion] or ad­di­tional au­tho­riza­tion to use force.”

But Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee mem­bers said Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis in­formed them dur­ing a pri­vate brief­ing that they would be open to an up­dated au­tho­riza­tion pro­vided the mea­sure doesn’t im­pose tac­ti­cally un­wise re­stric­tions or in­fringe on the pres­i­dent’s con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers as com­man­der in chief.

“They were very open to the idea of work­ing on an au­tho­riza­tion, not be­cause they feel like they legally have to have it, but they think for the mis­sion it­self it would be good to have Congress en­gaged in that way,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who is spon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion to in­stall a new war author­ity for op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State, al-Qaida and the Tal­iban.

Kaine said Mat­tis told com­mit­tee mem­bers that “if you do an au­tho­riza­tion now, you ex­press a con­gres­sional re­solve, which is re­ally the Amer­i­can pub­lic’s re­solve” that Congress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion are on the same page.

Repub­li­cans and Democrats have raised ques­tions about whether the 2001 law, passed as the U.S. was tar­get­ing al-Qaida, should be re­vised. But find­ing com­mon ground has proven dif­fi­cult. Congress, nearly 16 years af­ter ap­prov­ing the first au­tho­riza­tion, has failed to pass an­other due to dis­agree­ments over whether to im­pose time re­stric­tions or al­low ground troops.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Corker, R-Tenn., stressed that Tiller­son and Mat­tis don’t want the 2001 war au­tho­riza­tion re­pealed un­til a new one is in place.

The let­ter to Congress re­flected the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to af­firm that it is on solid le­gal foot­ing as long as it is fight­ing Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists in the Mideast, even as the ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­pares for a post-Is­lamic State sit­u­a­tion in which the ex­trem­ists are mostly van­quished and the fo­cus turns to the longer term.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, too, ar­gued that the law passed af­ter Sept. 11 to fight al-Qaida ap­plied to the cur­rent ef­fort in Iraq and Syria be­cause the 2001 law said the U.S. could go af­ter al-Qaida af­fil­i­ates. Th­ese days, al-Qaida’s off­shoot in Syria is dis­tinct from the Is­lamic State — and in fact has been fight­ing the Is­lamic State. But both the Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions have ar­gued they’re sim­i­lar enough to both be fair game un­der the post-9/11 law.

But that ar­gu­ment, which crit­ics have said for years stretches the post-9/11 law too far, be­comes less cred­i­ble once the Is­lamic State is largely elim­i­nated and the pri­mary U.S. fo­cus in Syria and Iraq moves beyond Trump’s goal of de­feat­ing the group. The lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul, the group’s last ur­ban strong­hold in Iraq, and the im­pend­ing fall of Raqqa, the de­clared cap­i­tal, have been seen as pow­er­ful indi­ca­tors that the group may be near­ing de­feat.

An­tic­i­pat­ing the de­feat of the Is­lamic State, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is dis­cussing with Congress the po­ten­tial need for a post-Is­lamic State war-pow­ers law to au­tho­rize U.S. ac­tiv­i­ties to sta­bi­lize Syria and keep other ex­trem­ist groups or Iran-backed mili­tias from fill­ing the vac­uum of power.

If the U.S. de­cided to issue a new au­tho­riza­tion, for ex­am­ple, it could fa­cil­i­tate tem­po­rar­ily send­ing in more troops to help re­store or­der and nor­malcy on the ground, said a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the de­lib­er­a­tions pub­licly and re­quested anonymity.

Tiller­son, speak­ing to re­porters this week, said the U.S. didn’t plan to pull out abruptly and com­pletely once the Is­lamic State is de­feated but also had no plans to em­bark on the kind of na­tion-build­ing in the Mid­dle East for which Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was crit­i­cized.

Tiller­son said that in ar­eas lib­er­ated from the Is­lamic State, the U.S. has sought to move in quickly to re­store “fun­da­men­tal needs” that al­low res­i­dents to move back to their homes: elec­tric­ity, wa­ter and sewage.

“That’s where we stop,” Tiller­son said. “We get the es­sen­tials in place. We’re not there to re­build their com­mu­ni­ties. That’s for them to do and that’s for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to mar­shal the re­sources to al­low them to do that.”

The New York Times/AL DRAGO

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis (cen­ter) and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son (right) ar­rive Wed­nes­day on Capi­tol Hill for a closed meet­ing with the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

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