Joint Chiefs Chair: War Against ISIL 'Will Likely’ Outlast Proposed War Authorization Against ISIL

By Terence P. Jeffrey | March 23, 2015 | 11:43am EDT

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( - Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified in the House Armed Services Committee last week that it is “likely” the war against ISIL will last longer than the congressional war authorization the administration is seeking against ISIL.

"If I understood the question," he said, "the enemy gets a vote, as we say, on how long hostilities extend."

At the same hearing, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter explained that the administration asked for an “authorization for the use of military force” (AUMF) that is limited to three years not because it anticipates defeating ISIL in three years but because, in the administration’s view, a war authorization limited to three years is consistent with the U.S. “political system.”

The draft AUMF that the White House sent Congress authorizes the president to use the armed force of the United States “against ISIL or associated  persons or forces.” It defines “associated persons or forces” as “individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

The administration’s draft AUMF also includes two “limitations.” One prohibits “the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” The other says the “authorization for the use of military force shall terminate three years after the date of the enactment” of the AUMF.

“The time limitation has nothing to do with the length of the campaign,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in the March 18 hearing in response to a question from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R.-Colo.).

“I cannot tell you that the campaign will be over in three years,” said Carter. “I don't think anybody can tell you that.

“That feature of the AUMF is included for reasons that are not military-related,” said Carter. “They're derived from the fact that we will have a new president in three years and the AUMF provides for a new president, and for that matter a new Congress, to revisit this issue.

“Now, that's not something that comes from the secretary of defense, or I would say from our thinking,” said Carter. “But we understand and respect it. It derives from the way the Constitution regards use of military force as a very grave matter in which both the Congress and the executive branch play a role.

“So I understand that; I respect that,” said Carter. “But the number three doesn't come from the campaign. It comes from our political system.”

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D.-Calif.) followed up by asking the defense secretary: “Is it your feeling that hostilities could continue and that we could have actions against ISIL beyond the three years as currently written and implemented?”

“Again,” said Carter, “the three years is not a prediction about the duration of the campaign to defeat ISIS. It is a recognition of the way our political system works and the recognition that a new president and a new Congress in three years may wish to revisit this issue."

General Dempsey then said the he anticipated that the war with ISIL will last more than three years.

“My military experience and judgment suggests that the answer of your question is it will likely extend beyond three years,” said Dempsey.

Aguilar then asked if a “new commander” could continue fighting the war more than three years from now without a new vote from Congress on a new AUMF.

“Could hostilities extend without a new AUMF by a new commander?” he asked.

“If I understood the question, the enemy gets a vote, as we say, on how long hostilities extend. I actually don't understand the question,” said Dempsey.

Aguilar then asked Defense Secretary Carter: “Absent a new discussion about AUMF, could hostilities continue in perpetuity beyond the three-year window?”

“I think the AUMF that the president proposed would require action by a new administration and a new Congress in three years, in light of the circumstances at the time, which we can't foresee,” said Carter.

The United States invaded Iraq twelve years ago, in March 2003. More than eight years after the invastion, in December 2011, President Obama withdrew the last U.S. troops from Iraq. On Dec. 14, 2011, he visited Fort Bragg to announce the end of the Iraq war.

“But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people,” Obama said then. “We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.”

Last month, in the Worldwide Threat Assessment he presented to Congress, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the DIA, warned about ISIL spreading beyond Iraq.

“Particularly concerning has been the spread of ISIL beyond Syria and Iraq,” said Stewart in the DIA threat assessment. “With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under governed areas.”

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