Video of a US military F/A-18 Hornet strike in Iraq, Aug. 8 (CENTCOM/YouTube.com)
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WASHINGTON — A group of US national security experts is pushing a piecemeal plan to update the measure authorizing the war against violent extremist groups for the first time since September 2001.
The left-leaning National Security Network (NSN) on Tuesday released a report that proposes “an incremental approach ... that would cap the scope of the authorization now and roll back its scope over time, ending in its eventual expiration.”
The think tank sees a “realistic window of opportunity ... emerging to refine the law by bringing [the 2001 authorization of the use of military force, or AUMF] in line with historical practice and putting it on the course toward repeal. The war in Afghanistan is coming to a close.”
“The campaign to degrade and destroy [al-Qaida’s core] has largely succeeded, rendering the organization” unlikely to carry out a large-scale attack, states the report, titled “Ending the Endless War.”
“Moreover, the expansion of operations under the AUMF has already stressed its authority to the limits and leaves open the possibility of expansive interpretations of the law by future administrations, further calling for refinement,” it states.
Lawmakers in both parties and security experts of all stripes have in recent years endorsed the notion of rescinding the AUMF or updating it, especially as al-Qaida has been weakened in Pakistan and Afghanistan but gained strength elsewhere.
Experts and some lawmakers have said the 2001 AUMF is outdated, and should at least be updated to reflect a changed fight against al-Qaida and similar forces in places beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is bipartisan agreement that the measure’s lack of time elements and geographic limitations is a problem that should be remedied.
In conversations with CongressWatch, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said that in a less partisan environment, Congress likely could pass an updated AUMF; they are less confident that will be possible in the near future, however.
But NSN believes it could happen relatively soon.
To pull it off, the NSN report says, lawmakers should begin by bringing the measure “more in line with traditional limits on use of force used in past [war] authorizations.”
The think tank proposes three changes to that end:
■ “Limits in time by inserting a sunset clause to put the law on a natural course toward expiration, but keeping open the option for temporary reauthorization if necessary.”
■ “Limits on targeting authority through establishing a list of named enemy organizations to which the authorization applies.”
■ “Geographic limits by listing regions or countries where force may be employed.”
NSN believes those changes would cap the 2001 measure in terms of time and geography, allowing for its eventual “rollback.”
“After authorized use of force is limited to named enemy organizations and geographic areas, policymakers can dial down war authority over time by removing named enemy organizations and geographic areas from the authorization as circumstances permit,” the NSN report states. “Such rollback could ensure that future authority corresponds to progress made in counterterrorism operations once specific enemy organizations are degraded to the point that countering them no longer requires armed conflict.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, is the latest US lawmaker to take up the cause of AUMF reform.
He and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a senior Republican on both panels, have told CongressWatch they are preparing an amendment to the chamber’s 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would make some changes to the 2001 measure.
In late June, Kaine took to the Senate floor to make a case that any US strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — which are now ongoing — would fall outside of the 2001 measure.
“Congress passed an [AUMF] immediately after ... the 9/11 attacks to allow action against those who perpetrated the attacks on that day,” Kaine said June 25. “ISIL had no connection with the 9/11 attacks. ISIL did not form until 2003. ISIL is not al-Qaida, nor is it an associated force,” Kaine said, adding the group, which now calls itself the Islamic State, is “an avowed enemy of al-Qaida.” ■