A key Senate committee is set to press the Trump administration’s top two foreign policy hands over the need to update a war authorization that would define the bounds of U.S. military operations against terrorists and insurgents overseas.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will testify Monday evening before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as lawmakers are increasingly concerned that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) is not expansive enough to cover operations against new enemies in the Middle East and Africa.
Earlier this summer, the pair told the Senate committee that the 2001 law gives the military the legal backing it needs to fight terrorist groups. But in the wake of a deadly ambush in Niger, where four U.S. soldiers were killed by a local Islamic State affiliate, many lawmakers say a new war authorization is needed to reflect the battlefield reality that has developed over the last 16 years.
“I don’t think Congress has necessarily been completely kept up to date and the American public, I think, certainly has not,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said, according to the Associated Press.
Kaine was referring to the presence of U.S. troops on the African continent, particularly in obscure countries like Niger, where about 800 U.S. soldiers are deployed in support of a French-led mission to defeat Islamic extremist groups in West Africa. There are around 6,000 U.S. troops stationed across Africa as a whole.
The problem for the U.S. military is that it is fighting an enemy, ISIS, that didn’t exist when the 2001 AUMF was passed in response to the 9/11 attacks. It is also engaged in combat operations in places such as Syria and Niger where it did not expect to be deployed in the fight against al-Qaida and affiliated groups.
The White House, like the previous administration, has said it has the necessary authority to pursue ISIS around the world. But lawmakers, including many in Trump’s own party, are now seeking to re-assert some degree of congressional authority over the scope of military operations against changing worldwide threats.
“As we face a wide array of threats abroad, it is perhaps more important than ever that we have a sober national conversation about Congress’ constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker, said in a statement, according to AP.
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