DOD: Obama (Again) Used 2001 AUMF Against Al Qaida to Go After ISIS in Libya

By Susan Jones | February 22, 2016 | 10:59am EST
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook addresses reporters' questions during a briefing at the Pentagon, Feb. 19, 2016. (DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee)

( - President Obama authorized last week's attack on an ISIS training camp in Libya, specifically targeting a "high-value target" -- a Tunisian terrorist who has "facilitated the flow of foreign fighters across North Africa," the Pentagon announced on Friday.

"The president authorized this strike," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters. He noted that "a leading ISIL figure named Noureddin Chouchanein" was presumed killed.

"This individual is a known ISIL leader, a facilitator and an individual who has facilitated the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across North Africa. This individual is also wanted because of the role that he played in carrying out the terrorist -- a terrorist attack almost a year ago, in March of 2015, in Tunis, killing a number of tourists at the Bardo Museum in Tunis," Cook said.

"But Peter, under what authority was this strike carried out?" a reporter asked. "There is no AUMF (a congressionally-passed Authorization for the Use of Military Force) for ISIS in Libya; no Americans were killed in the two attacks in Tunisia. Under what authority?" he asked.

"Well, again, we've struck in Libya previously, under the existing...authorization for the use of military force," Cook responded.

"In 2001, against Al Qaida?" the reporter asked.

"Yes, specifically. And this -- in our targeting of Chouchanein this instance. And we believe that this was based on -- was legal under international law."

"But you're saying that you're using the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaida to go after ISIS in Libya?" the reporter followed up.

"Specifically, again, as a -- the use of military force against ISIL is authorized by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, specifically. Just as it was -- as we used it in our previous strike in Libya." (In November 2015, U.S. military forces killed a terrorist leader, Abu Nabil, inside Libya.)

The 2001 AUMF authorizes the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, and persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons..."

Later in the news conference, another reporter asked Cook if there's any point to having Congress negotiate a new AUMF if the strikes against ISIS in Libya can be covered under the 2001 AUMF:

"I think the (Defense) secretary has made this point previously that, obviously, we feel like we have the legal authorities to carry these out, but another Authorization for the Use of Military Force along the lines of what the president proposed sometime back he thinks would be constructive, would be helpful and if nothing else, would be an indication of support from the Congress on behalf of the American people for our troops who are carrying out this very important mission," Cook replied.

"We feel we have the existing legal authorities we need, but again, if Congress were to move forward with an Authorization for the Use of Military Force along the lines that the secretary and the president have mentioned previously, they -- secretary believes that would be a positive step."

As has reported, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is among the lawmakers who have expressed concern that the U.S. airstrikes and raids on Islamic State terrorists  was never authorized by Congress.

In February 2015, President Obama asked Congress to pass an AUMF permitting him to wage war against the Islamic State and “associated persons or forces” as long as the war does not include “enduring offensive ground combat operations” and the authorization is limited to three years.

Obama said the draft AUMF he sent to Congress would give him the "flexibility" to conduct limited ground combat operations, such as rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership.

Congress has never take up the president's proposal, which some Republicans considered too limiting. Nor has Congress negotiated an AUMF of its own.

On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Cook said both manned and unmanned aircraft were involved in last week's attack, which was "conducted with the knowledge of Libya authorities."

"So, this -- in this particular instance, we saw this opportunity to strike here, and we took that -- we took that step. And again, we feel confident that this was a successful strike, and again, that these particular fighters posed a threat to interests in the region, to Libya, and to -- to the United States over all."

Cook admitted that it's a "very complicated picture in Libya," and he said the political chaos is one reason Islamic State terrorists are expanding there.

"We want to do everything we can to deter that (ISIS) glide slope, to alter that glide slope, so that they can't have the ability to gain a foothold in this -- in the country. And particularly as we continue to challenge (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, we do not want other safe havens to emerge for (ISIS)." He said Friday's air strike  "is a reflection of that effort."

He also indicated that this won't be the last strike:  "[W]e do believe that there are other training camps in Libya similar to this. And we're going to continue to -- to monitor those carefully, and when we see opportunities or the need to take this kind of action, we will be prepared to do so. Because we want to prevent, once again, ISIL from being able to get a foothold in Libya and prevent them from getting a foothold anywhere else."

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