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Spec Ops Defends Wartime Authorities, Some in Congress Skeptical

Mar. 11, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By PAUL MCLEARY   |   Comments
Michael Lumpkin, assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict, told a Senate panel that at 'some point we need to re-look at it [the Authorization for the Use of Military Force ] to make sure ... it serves us in the best way.'
Michael Lumpkin, assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict, told a Senate panel that at 'some point we need to re-look at it [the Authorization for the Use of Military Force ] to make sure ... it serves us in the best way.' (US Army Special Operations Command)
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WASHINGTON — The civilian leader of the country’s special operations community tread lightly before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this afternoon, but didn’t shy away from affirming his desire for Washington to take a new look at the controversial Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) at some point in the near future.

After being led to the issue by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Michael Lumpkin, assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict, told the panel that at “some point we need to re-look at it to make sure ... it serves us in the best way.”

Passed in haste Sept. 14, 2001, the AUMF serves as the broad legal justification for the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against al-Qaida and its affiliate terrorism organizations. The guidance has covered everything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to drone strikes on suspected militants — including several American citizens — in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as Special Forces actions across the Middle East and North and East Africa.

But not everyone is sold on the continuing relevance of the original document.

A skeptic of the continuing broad-based powers that the AUMF grants the president, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine pressed Lumpkin whether Congress should let the authorization expire once US troops pull out of Afghanistan.

Lumpkin responded that, “I think that we’re at a point where while the AUMF has supported the needs of the department in order to execute the missions at hand in order to protect the homeland and American interests, I think we’re at an inflection point that it may be a time to look at the AUMF to see if it does need adjustment to better serve this country.”

In a major national security speech at the National Defense University in May 2013, president Obama pledged to “refine, and ultimately repeal” the AUMF, but there has been no real word from the White House since then as to any timeline, or real desire, to start down that road.

Kaine pushed on, telling Lumpkin and Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven that he is “very troubled that the AUMF of 9/14/01 has no temporal limitation, no geographic scope or limitation. I think it is — it is being used in ways that I think might be appropriate for the nation’s defense, but I think we’re clearly beyond the contemplation of the members of Congress who voted for it at that time.”

Back in October, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon was in part unable to respond in time during the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, due to the fact that the AUMF only covers al-Qaida and its associated branches, and “the individuals related in the Benghazi attack, those that we believe were either participants or leadership of it, are not ‘authorized use of military force.’”

Graham and others have said that they are concerned that the increasingly diffuse structure of al-Qaida —which has morphed into what is being called “Qaida central” based in the mountains of Pakistan and the increasing number of groups who loosely identify themselves with the brand — complicates the government’s ability to combat threats to the United States and its interests abroad.

Email: pmcleary@defensenews.com

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