(CNSNews.com) - Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook announced on Monday that President Obama had authorized new air strikes to help rid Libya of Islamic State terrorists who have spread into that country.
"Under what legal authority are these strikes being conducted?" a reporter asked Cook at Monday's Pentagon briefing.
"The 2001 authorization for the use of military force, similar to our previous airstrikes in Libya," Cook responded.
The U.S. targeted ISIS leaders in Libya once last November and then again in February. After the February attack, Cook told reporters President Obama derived legal authority for the two airstrikes from the "existing" Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress approved in 2001.
That 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..."
But the Islamic State terror group did not exist in 2001. As President Obama has explained (see below), ISIS emerged from the remnants of al Qaida and Saddam Hussein's military, and it also attracted Islamic radicals from all around the world.
In February 2015, President Obama asked Congress to pass a new AUMF permitting him to wage war specifically against the Islamic State and “associated persons or forces” as long as the war did not include “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” Obama also requested that the authorization be limited to three years.
Congress never took up the president's draft proposal, which some Republicans considered too limiting. Nor has Congress negotiated an AUMF of its own.
As Cook told reporters six months ago, "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 (Defense) Secretary and the President have mentioned previously, they -- Secretary believes that would be a positive step."
The new U.S. airstrikes that began this week in Sirte, Libya -- an ISIS stronghold -- will be a sustained campaign, done at the request of, and in coordination with, Libya's U.N.-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA).
A reporter asked Cook on Monday about the end-game: "What does Sirte have to look like for these strikes to cease?"
"Well, we'll be working with the GNA, they obviously want to see ISIL eliminated from -- from Sirte, that's the stronghold that ISIL's been occupying, and so the GNA will -- has already had success -- significant success -- in removing ISIL from this area. We hope these airstrikes can be conducted over a short amount of time and that their forces will be able to move even faster in terms of removing ISIL from that area," Cook said.
A reporter again asked about the U.S. military objective in conducting air strikes in Libya:
Cook responded: "The U.S. military objective is to eliminate ISIL and its key stronghold in Libya and doing that in conjunction with the internationally recognized government of Libya, which has asked for our assistance in this case. And so that's what we're doing."
In September 2014, after President Obama announced that the U.S. would lead a coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria, he talked about the rise of the Islamic State.
In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," Obama said: "Essentially, what happened with ISIL was that you had al-Qaida in Iraq, which was a vicious group, but our Marines were able to quash with the help of Sunni tribes.
"They went back underground, but over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to re-constitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos and attract foreign fighters who believed in their jihadist nonsense and traveled everywhere from Europe to the United States to Australia to other parts of the Muslim world, converging on Syria.
"And so this became ground zero for jihadists around the world. And they've been very savvy in terms of their social media.
"In some cases, you have old remnants of Saddam Hussein's military that had been expunged from the Iraqi military which gave them some traditional military capacity and not just terrorist capacity. And this is one of the challenges that we're going to have generally, is where you've got states that are failing or in the midst of civil war, these kinds of organizations thrive.
"That's why it's so important for us to recognize part of our solution here is going to military, we just have to push them back and shrink their space and go after their command and control and their capacity and their weapons and their fueling and cut off their financing and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters."
The U.S. military is currently fighting Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria -- the "parent tumor," as Defense Secretary Ash Carter calls it -- as well as in Afghanistan and now Libya, the "metastasis."