President Barack Obama will soon give Congress his proposal for a new authorization for the use of military force against Islamic State fighters, and it will place strict limits on the types of U.S. ground forces that can be deployed, according to congressional sources. Almost six months after the president began using force against the Islamic State advance in Iraq and then in Syria, the White House is ready to ask Congress for formal permission to continue the effort. Until now, the administration has maintained it has enough authority to wage war through the 2001 AUMF on al-Qaeda, the 2002 AUMF regarding Iraq and Article II of the Constitution. But under pressure from Capitol Hill, the White House has now completed the text of a new authorization and could send it to lawmakers as early as Wednesday.
If enacted, the president’s AUMF could effectively constrain the next president from waging a ground war against the Islamic State group until at least 2018. Aides warned that the White House may tweak the final details before releasing the document publicly. In advance of the release, top White House and State Department officials have been briefing lawmakers and Congressional staffers about their proposed legislation. Two senior Congressional aides relayed the details to me.
The president’s AUMF for the fight against Islamic State would restrict the use of ground troops through a prohibition on “enduring offensive ground operations,” but provide several exemptions. First, all existing ground troops, including the 3,000 U.S. military personnel now on the ground in Iraq, would be explicitly excluded from the restrictions. After that, the president would be allowed to deploy new military personnel in several specific roles: advisers, special operations forces, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to assist U.S. air strikes and Combat Search and Rescue personnel. Under the president’s proposal, the 2002 AUMF that was passed to authorize the Iraq war would be repealed, but the 2001 AUMF that allows the U.S. to fight against al-Qaeda and its associated groups would remain in place.
The new statute would authorize military action against Islamic State and its associated forces, which are defined in the text as organizations fighting alongside the jihadists and engaged in active hostilities. This means the president would be free to attack groups such as the al-Nusra Front or Iraqi Baathist elements who have partnered with the Islamic terrorists in Syria or Iraq. There are no geographic limitations, so the administration would be free to expand the war to other countries. The president’s proposed AUMF would sunset in three years and would not give the president the unilateral authority to extend the authorization. That means the next president would have to come back to Congress for a new authorization in 2018, if the fight against Islamic State fighters lasts that long. More