Washington: Senior US national security officials told Congress a new war authorisation is “not legally required” to conduct combat operations against terrorist groups and warned lawmakers that prematurely repealing current law could signal the US is “backing away from this fight.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee three months after they informed the panel a post- September 11, 2001 law gave the military ample authority to fight terrorist groups and a new one was unnecessary. A separate authorisation for the war in Iraq approved by Congress in 2002 also remains in force.
In testimony, they said if Congress does pursue a new authorisation for foes such as the Islamic State, it’s imperative that the existing law not be rescinded until the new one is fully in place. Tillerson and Mattis also said that any new war authorisation, like the existing one, should not have any geographic or time restrictions placed on the use of force.
“Though a statement of continued congressional support would be welcome, a new (war authorisation) is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by al-Qaida, the Taliban and ISIS,” Mattis said. But doing away from the existing laws prematurely “could only signal to our enemies and our friends that we are backing away from this fight,” according to Mattis.
Their appearance before the committee comes as the deadly ambush in Niger is igniting a push among many lawmakers to update the legal parameters for combat operations overseas.
A growing number of congressional Republicans and Democrats, many of whom were startled by the depth of the U.S. commitment in Niger and other parts of Africa, have been demanding a new authorisation for the use of military force.
They’ve argued that the dynamics of the battlefield have shifted over the past 16 years and it’s past time to replace the post-Sept. 11 authorisation to fight al-Qaida with a law that reflects current threats.
Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va, said last week he believed most Americans would be surprised by the extent of the operations in Africa that U.S. forces are involved. Kaine and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., are sponsoring legislation to install a new war authority for operations against the Islamic State group, al-Qaida and the Taliban.