Trump admin says current law permits new wars without Congress vote

By Ray Downs  |  Oct. 30, 2017 at 9:57 PM
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Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress Monday that a 2001 authorization for war against terrorist groups provides adequate permission to continue military operations in several countries around the world.

Since the death of four American soldiers in Niger this month, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have begun to question the United States' longstanding foreign policy of conducting anti-terrorism military operations in foreign countries without congressional approval. Such operations have been allowed since Congress approved the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists act on Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the attacks in New York and Washington.

Lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., have said a new authorization might be needed now that the United States has expanded its military operations to 19 countries, with little information about them available to the public.

"There needs to be more public discussion and light on these activities because I do not think the American people want the United States conducting a global, endless shadow war under the radar, covert and beyond scrutiny," Cardin said.

Mattis told Congress that, like during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, Trump's government has the approval it needs under the law.

"Though a statement of continued congressional support would be welcome, a new [war authorization] is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by al-Quida, the Taliban and [the Islamic State,]" Mattis said, according to ABC News.

Mattis warned against doing away with the the AUMF, arguing such a move "could only signal to our enemies and our friends that we are backing away from this fight."

Tillerson said limiting the administration's ability to conduct military operations at will would increase the terror threat.

"Legislation which would arbitrarily terminate the authorization to use force would be inconsistent with a conditions-based approach, and could unintentionally embolden our enemies with the goal of outlasting us," Tillerson said, according to Bloomberg.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said that none of the 21 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were in the Senate in 2001 when the AUMF was approved -- and argued that, despite potential risks, Congress needed to "weigh in" on military operations abroad.

"I would argue that the concern about giving our adversaries notice that we have to vote on something may be an issue, but it's overwhelmed in a big way by not having Congress buy-in and not having us having skin in the game," he said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the United States "shouldn't be at war without a vote of Congress."

"They've used [the AUMF] now to go after dozens of organizations in many many countries around the world in ways that I think are frankly completely unsupported by that authorization," he said, according to NPR.

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