Kaine: Time for Congress to 'Provide...Legal Justification for the Ongoing Military Action'

By Susan Jones | October 28, 2015 | 6:11am EDT
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. military, in its attempt to defeat Islamic State terrorists, is engaged in military action in a growing number of countries, yet the Obama administration is conducting those military operations without a current authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) from Congress.

"I think it's very much time that Congress re-visited question of this authorization, and try to provide some underlying legal justification for the ongoing military action," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

"The administration's position about the authority to wage this war is based upon an authorization that was passed on September 18, 2001, before many of us were here, that specifically says the president is authorized to use force against those who planned, authorized or committed aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

"And I would renew my observation, I think it would have been far beyond the contemplation of the members of Congress who voted on that at the time, and it is certainly beyond the contemplation of those of us who did not vote on that at the time, that (those) words would be applying 15 years later to an effort...that may mutate to other countries..."

Kaine counted five countries -- Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya -- where the U.S. is engaged in activities against the Islamic State.

And he noted that when Congress was in recess earlier this month, President Obama "sent to Congress a war powers letter, indicating the detachment of, I think, 300 American troops to Cameroon, to assist in activities against Boko Haram which have pledged allegiance to ISIL.

"Have I omitted any countries where there is currently activity that is either ISIL activity or groups that have pledged alliance to ISIL?" Kaine asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford.

"We're watching ISIL all over the world, Senator, as you know," Carter respoded. "It has aspirations and tries to metastasize, uses the Web. We have had, and Director Comey made this clear, Americans who have self-radicalized.

"So, this is a phenomenon around the world. We're watching it around the world, not just ourselves, but in law enforcement and intelligence circles. It's one of the reasons why ISIL needs to be defeated."

Kaine again asked if he was correct that "kinetic" military activities are now taking place in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and Cameroon.

Dunford told Kaine, "We don't currently have operations ongoing in Yemen, direct operations against ISIL. We don't have operations (in) Libya against ISIL. And our support in Cameroon is ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) in support of operations against Boko Haram."

But according to Defense Secretary Carter, the U.S. is watching ISIL in other countries. Carter also agreed that the U.S. may have to consider military activity against ISIL in nations other than the ones Kaine mentioned.

"It could come to that," Carter told Kaine. "And that's why I think we need to kill the source of it, which is in Syria and Iraq."

Kaine asked Carter, "Is it fair to assume, you know -- we pray that this is not the case. But the death of Master Sergeant Wheeler may not be the last death of an American service member in this campaign to defeat ISIL?"

"I think we need to be realistic," Carter said. "We are -- our people will be in positions, they are right now, every day. There are people flying right now. There are people training and advising forces there. And they are in harm's way. There's no doubt about it."

Carter said he doesn't know how long it will take to defeat ISIL, but the sooner the better -- "which is why we're so intent upon strengthening our effort, which is why we're working with the Iraqis and trying to get them to field more Sunni forces, strengthening our training and equipping of Sunni forces, why we're prepared to do more with those forces in Iraq."

In his opening statement to the committee, Carter held out the possibility of U.S. troops engaging in "direct action" to defeat ISIL: "[W]e won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground."

Carter noted that last week's "rescue operation" led by Iraqi/Kurdish forces resulted in the death of a U.S. adviser, Master Sargent Joshua Wheeler, who "heroically acted to ensure the overall success of the mission and lost his life in the process."

Carter said the death of any service member is a tragedy. "While our mission in Iraq is to train, advise and assist our Iraqi partners in situations such as that operation, where we have actionable intelligence and a capable partner force, we want to support our partners and we will."

MRC Store