Congress Should Not Tie The Hands Of American Commanders In The Middle East

‘The 2002 AUMF Is Important In Iraq Today Because It Provides Authorities For U.S. Forces There To Defend Themselves From A Variety Of Real, Exigent Threats. It’s Arguably Even More Important In Syria … Do Supporters Of This Repeal Fully Understand The Ways It Might Limit Counterterrorism Missions?’


SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): “[L]et’s clear up some facts: The 2002 AUMF has been understood for years to apply to a variety of threats emanating from Iraq. Administrations of both parties have cited it as an important legal foundation of our fight against ISIS. It’s been used precisely because the ISIS caliphate that stretched into Syria emanated from Iraq after President Obama’s withdrawal in 2011. The 2002 AUMF is important in Iraq today because it provides authorities for U.S. forces there to defend themselves from a variety of real, exigent threats. It’s arguably even more important in Syria, where our personnel are present against the wishes of the brutal Assad regime, supporting local Kurdish and Arab forces, and conducting strikes against ISIS. And because ISIS and al Qaeda have sometimes diverged, legal analysts have suggested the 2001 AUMF alone may be insufficient to authorize operations against ISIS. Do supporters of this repeal fully understand the ways it might limit counterterrorism missions? Cyber ops? Support for Kurdish and Arab forces in Syria? How do they propose we respond to growing attacks against our forces and interests in Iraq? … We’re learning a lesson in real time about withdrawing from Afghanistan without a plan. We shouldn’t make the same mistake here.” (Sen. McConnell, Remarks, 6/17/2021)

FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES MATTIS: “[T]he 2001 and 2002 AUMFs should not be repealed. After numerous court cases and debates, there appears to now be a general consensus by all three branches of government that these two AUMFs provide sufficient authority to prosecute operations against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and, we believe, ISIS. Repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs would only cause unnecessary policy and legal uncertainty, which could lead to additional litigation and public doubt. The uncertainty accompanying that situation could only signal to our enemies and our friends that we are backing away from this fight. It would stall our operations, immediately reduce allied commitments and support, and create significant opportunities for our enemies to seize the initiative. Additionally, repealing the AUMFs without new authority would deprive us of the ability to detain dangerous enemy combatants who could then be released to fight again.” (U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 10/30/2017)


Prior Administrations Have Repeatedly Cited The 2002 AUMF As An Important Legal Authority In Actions Against ISIS, Al Qaeda In Iraq, Iranian Militias, And Qassem Soleimani

“[I]n 2014, the Obama administration initiated airstrikes targeting the emerging Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in both Iraq and Syria. The administration relied initially on Article II of the U.S. Constitution, but eventually started advancing legal arguments grounded primarily in the 2001 AUMF that Congress enacted after the September 11th terrorist attacks but secondarily on the 2002 AUMF. The executive branch has since argued that the language of the 2002 AUMF, which permitted action taken against threats from Iraq, could support combatting terrorist threats in Iraq; subsequent congressional appropriation of funds for these operations were cited as ratification for these legal arguments. The Trump administration continued relying on the 2002 AUMF as supporting authority for the counter-ISIL campaign. But it also cited it as legal authority for targeting Iran-backed militias in Iraq as well as the 2020 strike that killed Iranian official Qassem Soleimani.” (“The 2002 Iraq AUMF: Interpretation and Possible Repeal,” Session 25 of the Congressional Study Group, Brookings Institution, 12/29/2022)

  • WILLIAM S. CASTLE, Former Defense Department Acting General Counsel: “Although the primary focus of the 2002 AUMF was Saddam Hussein’s regime, under its express goals, the statute has always been understood to authorize the use of force for the related dual purposes of helping to establish a stable, democratic Iraq and of responding, including through the use of force, to terrorist threats emanating from Iraq.” (William S. Castle, Remarks, New York City Bar Association, 12/11/2017)

WHITE HOUSE NOTICE TO CONGRESS: “At the President’s direction, United States Armed Forces conducted an air strike in Iraq on January 2, 2020, killing Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, a designated foreign terrorist organization. The President directed this action in response to an escalating series of attacks in preceding months by Iran and Iran-backed militias on United States forces and interests in the Middle East region…. Article II of the United States Constitution empowers the President, as Commander in Chief, to direct the use of military force to protect the Nation from attack or threat of imminent attack and to protect important national interests. Article II thus authorized the President to use force against forces of Iran, a state responsible for conducting and directing attacks against United States forces in the region. In addition, under the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq (2002 AUMF) ‘the President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to … defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.’ Although the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime was the initial focus of the statute, the United States has long relied upon the 2002 AUMF to authorize the use of force for the purpose of establishing a stable, democratic Iraq and addressing terrorist threats emanating from Iraq.” (“Notice on the Legal and Policy Frameworks guiding the United States’ Use of Military Force and Related National Security Operations,” The White House, 2/14/2020)

  • “Such uses of force need not address threats from the Iraqi Government apparatus only, but may address threats to the United States posed by militia, terrorist groups, or other armed groups in Iraq. The airstrike against Soleimani in Iraq is consistent with this longstanding interpretation of the President’s authority under Article II and the 2002 AUMF. Iran’s past and recent activities, coupled with intelligence at the time of the air strike, indicated that Iran’s Qods Force posed a threat to the United States in Iraq, and the air strike was intended to protect United States personnel and deter future Iranian attack plans against United States forces and interests in Iraq and threats emanating from Iraq.” (“Notice on the Legal and Policy Frameworks guiding the United States’ Use of Military Force and Related National Security Operations,” The White House, 2/14/2020)


Iran And Its Proxies Have Not Stopped Launching Attacks In Iraq, Including Against U.S. Bases And Military Personnel

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD AUSTIN: “Daesh continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of Iraq’s citizens, so our continued cooperation is essential. … Unfortunately, Daesh is not the only threat that this region faces. The United States condemns the repeated cross-border attacks from Iran. These attacks violate Iraqi sovereignty, put Iraqi lives in danger, and hold the Iraqi people back.” (Sec. Austin, Press Conference, 3/07/2023)

Attacks by Iranian proxies against bases housing U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Syria are increasing, U.S. officials say, and Washington has not responded with force since 2021. There were seven attacks in May [2022], as many attacks that month as February, March and April combined, and there have been a total of 29 since October without a kinetic U.S. response. No Americans have been killed in these incidents, but a U.S. intelligence assessment found Iran may believe its proxy groups have killed and injured Americans, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the assessment. Iranians often boast about battlefield successes that are not substantiated. Earlier this year, Iranian officials claimed to have killed Israelis at a safe house in Irbil, which turned out to be untrue. The attacks have been carried out by Iranian-backed militias, the U.S. officials say.” (“Iran-Backed Militias' Attacks Against U.S. Targets Are Up. The U.S. Hasn't Responded With Force Since Last Year.,” NBC News, 6/10/2022)

“Iran attacked Kurdish groups in northern Iraq with drones and missiles [in November 2022] after weeks of warnings from Tehran that it would target foreign actors it accuses of orchestrating a two-month-long antigovernment protest movement at home. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, targeted bases of Kurdish groups near the cities of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah, leaving at least two people dead and nine injured, according to Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government. It was the second major attack in the region since the protests began, though the IRGC has fired artillery at less populated areas on multiple occasions.” (“Iran Attacks Northern Iraq, Targeting Kurdish Groups for Unrest at Home,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/14/2022)

“Saudi officials said Iran is poised to carry out attacks on both the kingdom and Erbil, Iraq, in an effort to distract attention from domestic protests that have roiled the country since September…. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia accused Iran of carrying out a drone and missile attack on the kingdom in 2019 that targeted the country’s oil industry.” (“Saudi Arabia, U.S. on High Alert After Warning of Imminent Iranian Attack,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/01/2022)

“A cluster of rockets targeted a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on [February 1st], officials from northern Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region said. An Iranian-backed militia promptly claimed responsibility for the attack. A Turkish defense ministry official said there was no damage or injury at the base but did not provide further details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. According to a statement from the Iraqi Kurdish region's anti-terrorism department, at least eight rockets were fired at Turkey's Zilkan military base in Iraq's northern Nineveh province, with two hitting the base itself.” (“Iranian-Backed Militia Launches Rockets At Turkish Base In Northern Iraq,” Fox News, 2/01/2023)


The Threat From ISIS Has Not Disappeared And The Terror Group Continues To Launch Attacks In Iraq And Syria

U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: “Throughout 2022, US Central Command and partner forces conducted hundreds of operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These operations degraded ISIS and removed a cadre of senior leaders from the battlefield, to include the emir of ISIS and dozens of regional leaders as well as hundreds of fighters. All these operations were part of the mission to degrade the terror group’s ability to direct and inspire destabilizing attacks in the region and globally, to include against the US homeland. During calendar year 2022, CENTCOM conducted 313 total operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria as follows: In Syria: 108 partnered operations [,] 14 US unilateral operations [,] 215 ISIS operatives detained [,] 466 ISIS operatives killed [;] In Iraq: 191 partnered operations [,] 159 ISIS operatives detained [,] At least 220 ISIS operatives killed.” (U.S. Central Command, Press Release, 12/29/2022)

“The Islamic State caliphate, which held large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, was defeated in 2018, yet analysts are seeing signs, including a growing number of attacks in northern and western Iraq, of a resurgence, a cause for concern that needs to be watched closely. ‘The Islamic State has begun to regain its activity in an attempt to gather what remains of its members,’ Fadil Abu Ragheef, an Iraq-based expert on terrorist groups, told Fox News Digital. He said that while the organization had lost the main centers of power it held under the first generation of its leadership, it continues to pose a danger in the areas where it still has strength, the northern cities between Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and the Mam Mountains. … Ragheef noted that while ISIS is nowhere near its previous strength, it has resumed its activities and is not going away. It is an ideological organization that continues to practice its activities with full force, he added, and is in the midst of reorganizing its ranks again. He said many ISIS members are among the approximately 57,000 people held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, and noted that the situation has become a growing concern for the U.S. and international community.” (“ISIS Resurfacing In Iraq As Country Looks To Hit Back At Terror Organization,” Fox News, 10/23/2022)

  • “Recent attacks include suicide bombings close to Baghdad and other parts of the country, and Iraqi authorities have also uncovered and stopped some ISIS operations. During an interview with Fox News Digital on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein urged western countries to keep going after ISIS. He warned of the threat of the resurgence not just to Syria and Iraq but the world. ‘What is going to happen?’ Hussein asked. ‘That means they would be once again active inside Syria and that also they would cross the border, and they will come because Syria is not so far away from Iraqi border. So they will cross the border, and they will come to Iraq.’ He called on countries to repatriate their citizens from the Al-Hol prison camp as Iraq had been doing.” (“ISIS Resurfacing In Iraq As Country Looks To Hit Back At Terror Organization,” Fox News, 10/23/2022)

“ISIS unleashed its biggest attack in Syria since the fall of its ‘caliphate’ three years ago. More than 100 militants assaulted the main prison holding suspected extremists, sparking a battle with U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters that continued 24 hours later and left dozens dead on Friday. Across the border in Iraq, gunmen stormed an army barracks north of Baghdad before dawn Friday while soldiers inside slept, killing 11 before escaping — the deadliest attack in months on Iraq’s military. The bold assaults suggest militants have been revitalized after maintaining a low-level insurgency in Iraq and Syria over the past few years. The group’s territorial control in Iraq and Syria was crushed by a years-long U.S.-backed campaign, but its fighters continued with sleeper cells that have increasingly killed scores of Iraqis and Syrians in past months.” (“Dozens Killed As ISIS Gunmen Launch Major Attacks In Iraq And Syria,” The Associated Press, 1/21/2022)

  • “The attack in Syria targeted Gweiran Prison in the northeastern city of Hassakeh, the largest of around a dozen facilities run by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces holding suspected ISIS fighters. Gweiran holds some 5,000, including ISIS commanders and figures considered among the most dangerous, according to Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The militants, armed with heavy machine guns and vehicles rigged with explosives, attacked Thursday evening, aiming to free their comrades, Shami said. The fighting started with a large explosion, followed by two more blasts later, said one resident whose home overlooks the area. The assault was complex. Prisoners inside the facility rioted and tried to break out simultaneously as a car bomb went off outside and gunmen clashed with security forces, Shami said. A car bomb hit a nearby petroleum depot, sparking a fire that still burned Friday.” (“Dozens Killed As ISIS Gunmen Launch Major Attacks In Iraq And Syria,” The Associated Press, 1/21/2022)



Related Issues: Iran, America's Military, ISIL, Iraq, Al Qaeda, Syria, War on Terror, National Security