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Cole calls for new AUMF after Niger attacks

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U.S. Reps. Steve Russell (left) and Tom Cole.
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OKLAHOMA CITY- The October 4 attack on American troops in Niger has led to Congress, and specifically Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) to call for the establishment of a new formal Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to deal with terrorist groups outside of the original threats covered by the AUMF.

The attack in Niger left four American servicemen dead, but some say that expanding the original 2001 AUMF that was put in place after the 9/11 attacks, is unnecessary and could lead to “endless wars” and overreaching military power.

On Monday, the secretaries of State and Defense Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis were slated to speak with the Senate’s foreign relations committee about how President Trump’s administration views its role under the AUMF. The urge to introduce the debate on war authorization has been a long-standing push with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Cole taking up the call.

“The United States is fortunate to have the world’s strongest and most capable military force. Beyond our own borders, they are working all over the world to ensure our country remains secure on the international stage,” Cole said in a statement Monday.

“And we were all saddened and shocked to hear of the deaths of four U.S Army Special Operations soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month. Although questions remain unanswered, it is a sobering reminder of the United States’ role and mission in the fight against terrorism. For 16 years our nation has been engaged in the fight against terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East. We have had a military presence in the Middle East since the first battles against our enemies in 2001, but the nature of the conflict has changed dramatically.”

Cole added that after two presidential administrations, the country is being challenged by a new face of terrorism in every corner of the world.

“Warfare and technology has changed and so has the enemy. Beyond the central groups of terrorism like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, there are arms of radical Islam across the globe that exist with the same mission - to wage jihad against the West,” Cole said.

However, the fact that many in Congress were unaware of the presence or mission of American troops in Niger means more discussion and a new strategy must be created, Cole said.

“Many have questioned why the United States has sent troops to Africa when the highest levels of concern lie in other places like the Middle East,” he said. “Offshoot groups of radical Islamic terrorism are capable of performing just as much damage as ISIS to innocent civilians and nations. The U.S. troops fighting in Niger certainly had a mission. But it is worrisome that some of my colleagues and many Americans were unaware of its nature and the risks that it entailed.”

Cole said he felt a renewed strategy and a formal Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) would be the best answer to preventing another situation where questions remain unanswered.

“For the past several years, I have advocated for the President and Congress to revisit the process to establish a new AUMF. This will ensure that all legislators are cognizant of the purpose of sending our troops into conflict,” he said. “It also solidifies the validity of our mission overseas. In this year’s National Security and Defense appropriations bill, my amendment directing the President to ask Congress for a new AUMF and a new strategy was included. Should President Trump do so, I am certain that Congress will give him a new AUMF.”

Cole added that a new AUMF enacted by Congress would clarify America’s role in battling terrorism and would give the American military clear legal authority in executing missions against terrorism and terrorist organizations.

Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), a decorated Army veteran who sits on the Armed Services Committee, told Larry King in an interview that he was “baffled” by statements from certain members of Congress who said they didn’t know American forces were in Africa and added that lawmakers were “not engaged” in that part of the world. He added the presence of American troops in Africa was important in keeping terrorist organizations at bay there.

“We have to take dead serious what’s going on there because it’s a firewall,” Russell said. “These affiliates of Islamic Jihad – whether they are Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda affiliates, ISIS affiliates or whatever stripe they want to choose to try to cause strife – if they break this firewall of largely peaceful countries, that could have grave consequences for the continent of Africa.”

He said the countries in Africa have reached out to America and other countries to help train their police to deal with the organizations and that it has been ongoing for years.

“I’ve been aware of our operations in Africa,” he said.                                                          

KAINE/FLAKE and THE PUSH FOR NEW AUMF

On Monday, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, (D-VA) , a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, pressed Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis on the need for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. In the hearing, Kaine highlighted key components of the bipartisan AUMF that he and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced in May, according to a statement released by Kaine’s office.

Kaine has led the fight in the Senate on Congress’s role in authorizing military action and the need for a new AUMF against ISIS. In 2013, Kaine voted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to authorize military force against Syria following Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people.

Kaine and Flake’s bipartisan AUMF in May explicitly authorizes military action against the ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, gives Congress an oversight role it currently lacks over who can be considered to be “associated” with the terrorist groups and in which countries military action can take place, and provides an expedited process for Congress to re-authorize this AUMF in five years.

Lastly, it repeals the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Earlier this month, Kaine called on Secretary Mattis to provide information on the Department of Defense “advise and assist” missions and details on the legal authorities that justify them following the attack on U.S. service members in Niger.

Kaine reiterated the importance of passing a new AUMF to not only legally authorize current operations against terrorist groups, but to also send a message of resolve to the troops, the American public, and U.S. allies that Congress supports the mission.

Like many others in Congress, Kaine raised concerns that U.S. counterterrorism operations have turned into a ‘forever war’ that has mutated across the globe without needed Congressional authorization. Kaine introduced a military contract solicitation for the record that demonstrates that the U.S. counterterrorism operation in Africa is far greater than Americans were aware of, which became evident after the recent deaths of American service members in Niger and Mali.

“The question of this hearing is whether we can be in an endless war with no Congressional vote against newly formed terrorist groups all over the world, forever. We’re in year 17 and I have heard testimony before that this could go on for generations with no vote of Congress,” he said in a statement.

“The recent deaths of four American troops in Niger, and news about a June death of a Green Beret in Mali while deployed there on a special forces mission, raise many questions about the geographic scope of the American military campaign against terrorism. And I repeat here what I have often said many times in the last four years—it’s time for Congress to have a public debate and vote about an authorization for U.S. military action against non-state terrorist groups.”

Many in Congress have indicated that they are legally required to vote on military authorization against other terrorist groups not included in the original AUMF.

Senator Kaine asked Mattis and Tillerson about specific objections the Administration made in a September 5 letter on the Flake/Kaine AUMF that was introduced in May.

“I have a hard time understanding your opposition to our resolution as anything other than ‘we do not want Congressional oversight,’” he said.  “This is a constitutional power. And we shouldn’t be putting troops into harm’s way – and as Congress – standing back trying not to have our fingerprints on this when it’s mutating all over the globe. I think it’s a forever war, and I worry about deeply about handing the power over to President’s to do this without the feel of need to come to Congress at all.”

Kaine said he plans to submit a question for the record (QFR) to Tillerson and Mattis asking for a detailed list of all the groups that have been designated associated persons or forces under the 2001 AUMF and a list of all countries where the U.S. military is currently acting pursuant to that Authorization to give the American public a clear scope of U.S. military campaigns around the world.

Sen. Flake also added his comments after the May introduction.

“Congressional authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban will make clear to our allies and our adversaries that we are united in our resolve,” said Flake. “When I voted in 2001 to authorize military force against the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks, I had no idea I would be authorizing armed conflict for more than 15 years, and counting. It is past time for Congress to voice its support for the war against ISIS, something many military officers and diplomats working to defeat ISIS have advocated for, and for Congress to reassert some of the authority it has abdicated over the years.”

Key Components of the bipartisan Flake, Kaine AUMF include:

·           Authorized use of military force against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS specifically;

·           A process for Congressional oversight of what persons or forces can be treated as being “associated” with ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban;

·           A process for Congressional oversight of where fighting against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban can occur beyond Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia;

·           Repeals and replaces the 2001 AUMF against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and repeals the 2002 AUMF against Iraq;

·           Provides a five-year sunset on the new AUMF and allows for an expedited process to reauthorize the AUMF prior to its expiration; and

·           Requires the President to report to Congress with a strategy to protect the U.S. from ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, and provide subsequent status reports.

Prior to President Trump taking office, Congress was already battling over whether or not to formally debate war authorization. In September, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) also brought to the Senate a measure to end the existing AUMF within six months, but his amendment was tabled. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also called for a new war authorization after the attacks in Niger.

The White House has said, however, that the existing 16-year-old AUMF gives the government “adequate” authorization already for military actions around the globe, but it would be “open” to a new AUMF.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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