Sen. Bob Corker said in a statement that current threats make it “perhaps more important than ever that we have a sober national conversation about Congress’ constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force.” | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
Niger attack fuels new push for war vote
Calls to update the 2001 authorization come as the Pentagon telegraphs more such missions in more places.
10/20/2017 08:04 PM EDT
Some lawmakers, citing the deaths of four U.S. soldiers ambushed by terrorists in Niger, called on Congress on Friday to reconsider the broad war authority it granted in 2001 — as the Pentagon telegraphed that more such missions in more places are likely in the offing.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced it will hear testimony next week from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the 16-year-old Authorization for Use of Military Force that is now being used to justify military operations in numerous countries.
Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a statement that current threats make it “perhaps more important than ever that we have a sober national conversation about Congress’ constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force.”
For some on Capitol Hill, the attack in Niger highlights the need for updated legislation that takes into account the myriad operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups on several continents.
"The many questions surrounding the death of American service members in Niger show the urgent need to have a public discussion about the current extent of our military operations around the world," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), another panel member.
Such far-flung counter-terrorism missions are what critics like Kaine contend were never conceived of when Congress voted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to invade Afghanistan, where the Al Qaeda plot was conceived.
“The 2001 AUMF is not a blank check giving U.S. presidents the sole power to decide whether, where, and against whom our troops will fight,” said Ed Markey (D-Mass.), another Foreign Relations Committee member.
Kaine and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona are pushing a new authorization to govern the military campaigns against organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda and repeal the 2001 AUMF.
"For sixteen years, Congress has remained largely silent on this issue, allowing administrations to go to war anywhere, anytime," Kaine added. "A new AUMF is not only legally necessary, it would also send an important message of resolve to the American public and our troops that we stand behind them in their mission.”
Lawmakers briefed by Mattis on Friday said one message they heard was to expect more such military operations in the future.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters that the Trump administration plans to step up its counter-terrorism operations and loosen its military rules of engagement.
"The war is morphing," Graham said after meeting with Mattis. "You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You're going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less. You're going to have decisions being made not in the White House, but out in the field, and I support that entire construct."
"So the rules of engagement are going to change when it comes to counter-terrorism operations," he added.
But while there is wide agreement among members of both parties that the 2001 AUMF has been stretched well beyond its intent, efforts to repeal it have fizzled with no clear consensus on a replacement.
Mattis and Tillerson, who testified at a closed Senate hearing in August, have said they have the appropriate legal authority to conduct military operations — though Mattis has called on lawmakers to pass a new resolution as a show of congressional support for the ISIS campaign.
Yet Graham, a leading hawk, said he wouldn’t support a new war authorization he considers “micromanagement.”
"There's going to be an AUMF debate to come out of this because some people are going to say, 'Wait a minute, you can designate anybody you want to designate [as terrorists]?'" Graham explained. “And here's the answer: the Congress is not set up to be military commanders."
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs