Obama’s ISIS war powers request to ban ‘enduring’ troops

Obama’s ISIS war powers request to ban ‘enduring’ troops
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The White House will ask Congress to approve military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that bans “enduring offensive ground operations.”

Administration officials briefed lawmakers on Tuesday about the emerging language, which is intended to win over Republicans.

GOP lawmakers had balked at earlier language considered by a Senate panel in December that banned ground troops in combat operations with some exceptions, such as self-defense and rescue missions.

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What is unclear is whether Democrats wary of voting for a new war will withhold their support for the updated language, which even some Republicans acknowledge is vague.

“It’d be interesting to know exactly what that ‘enduring’ means, but I have to see it,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has called for language that would allow ground troops in order to give the military maximum flexibility to go after ISIS.

One congressional aide familiar with the new language acknowledged it could be a difficult sell with Democrats.

“That’s the whole debate on flexibility … that is the rub,” the aide said. 

The White House briefed House Democratic leaders Tuesday evening, but rank-and-file members, including liberals critical of language approving ground forces, were keeping their powder dry as they awaited the final details.

The debate is being inflamed by ISIS’s recent actions. 

One week after the release of a video showing a Jordanian hostage being burned alive, ISIS sent photographs to the parents of U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller said to prove she had died in captivity. The photos were authenticated and deemed credible by the U.S. intelligence committee, a representative for the 26-year-old’s family told The New York Times.

“No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla’s captivity and death,” President Obama said in a statement.

ISIS claimed Mueller was killed by airstrikes from Jordan carried out after ISIS’s execution of the Jordanian prisoner. The White House cast doubt on that account Tuesday while arguing ISIS was responsible.

“They are responsible for her safety and her well being, and they are therefore responsible for her death,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Asked if Mueller’s death would solidify support for a war authorization request, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said there was “a bipartisan desire to work with the president to have this as a collaborative decision of both the executive branch and Congress.”

“So I think it’s important, and it’s very, very serious,” he said.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the language at issue “comes down to a phrase or two.”

The administration is expected to send its formal authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to Capitol Hill as soon as Wednesday.

Congressional aides on Tuesday provided a few details.

They said it would last three years and impose no geographic restrictions on the fight, allowing the military to pursue the terror group wherever it goes.

It would not repeal the 2001 AUMF against al Qaeda and associated forces but would repeal a 2002 AUMF used for the Iraq War.

The White House and several congressional Democrats have previously said they thought the 2001 AUMF was too broad and should be refined.

The language is largely similar to a force authorization considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year, though that measure banned ground troops in combat operations and repealed both the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

Some key GOP voices offered support for the language.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting Why does Paul Ryan want to punish American consumers? MORE (S.C.), who opposes banning the use of U.S. troops in ground combat, told reporters he could “live with” the language banning “enduring” ground operations.  McCain said that a time limit on the authorization was “agreeable.”

And Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he would welcome the lack of geographic restrictions. 

“I know in the beginning people were talking about Iraq and Syria, but they’re in eight countries today,” said Corker.

“Basically, if it was geography specific, what you’d be saying to ISIS is, ‘If you’re not in these places, you’re safe.’ So it absolutely has to be very flexible relative to geography,” he added. 

Durbin said that he was encouraged by the draft and that he liked the three-year time frame. He also said this would mean Obama’s successor “has to start thinking immediately about the renewal” of the authorization.

Graham said he was concerned the language would prevent U.S. troops from engaging in combat with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The U.S. has been training and equipping moderate rebels in Syria battling both the Assad regime and ISIS. 

Laura Barron-Lopez and Mike Lillis contributed.

Updated at 8:53 p.m.