President Donald Trump's administration just made a move to escalate combat in Somalia, even though the United States has never declared war in the African country.
Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt from The New York Times reported that Trump declared parts of Somalia an "area of active hostilities," and allowed "war zone targeting rules" for at least 180 days, which are more relaxed and give commanders greater ability to carry out offensive action. The new directive allows less vetting of targets before military action, rules that are designed to protect civilians.
Who is the United States fighting against in Somalia?
The relaxed rules are meant to ease U.S. targeting of the terror group Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaida, according to the Times.
A Pentagon Spokesman told the Times that the flexibility provided by the directive will help the U.S. fight Shabab.
“The additional support provided by this authority will help deny Al Shabab safe havens from which it could attack U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the region,” Capt. Jeff Davis told the Times in a statement.
Why is the U.S. able to attack targets in Somalia, even though it has never declared war there?
An authorization from more than 15 years ago, called 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), allows the U.S. to fight targets deemed to be terrorists all over the world.
The AUMF was passed after Al Qaida terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Here's the key passage:
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
This means the president is allowed to fight terrorism all over the world, and doesn't need any further approval from Congress to do it.
The authorization was signed by President George W. Bush, and President Barack Obama's administration interpreted this rule to mean that attacks against any groups with ties to al-Qaida could be covered under the AUMF, which includes the Islamic State. President Donald Trump's administration is using the AUMF as justification for increasing the U.S. military presence overseas and taking more offensive action.
In March, the U.S. carried out increased air strikes in Yemen and sent 400 more troops to Syria, according to the Times.
However, members of Congress want the president to stop using the AUMF.
On March 30, Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted that the U.S. is in a "Middle East military escalation" with no plan, a similar criticism to the ones thrown at the Bush administration for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Both Democrats and Republicans want Congress to debate the AUMF and force the president to declare war before taking large military action.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced H.R. 1473 "Prohibit Expansion of U.S. Combat Troops into Syria Act" to the House in March, co-sponored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.). On March 21, Lee and other House Democrats spoke out against the "blank check" for war. In 2001, when the AUMF was passed, Lee was the only member of the House to vote against it, 420 to 1.
At a press conference in support of H.R. 1473, Rep. Ted Liu (D-Calif), a military veteran, said that President Donald Trump should be required to explain the military's expanded actions to Congress and the American public.
"The current president has not explained to the American people, why are we in a raging civil war half way around the world? What are our troops doing there? Who are they supporting? What is the end state?" he asked.
What would happen if the AUMF were repealed?
The 1973 War Powers Resolution states the United States can send forces into battle in three instances:
- Congress declares war
- Congress passes an an authorization for use of military force
- The United States is attacked by a foreign power
If the AUMF were repealed, Congress would need to either declare war, or sign a new AUMF, if the president wanted to continue military campaigns in Syria, Somalia and Yemen, as well as the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan.