Abuse of the 2001 AUMF weakens our national security


In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, a resolute president and an outraged Congress worked together to protect the nation. Congress passed an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) so that President Bush could bring the perpetrators to justice.

The 2001 AUMF has since been used by three consecutive administrations to conduct a myriad of military operations which have nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and American security is weaker as a result.

{mosads}Following the war in Afghanistan, President Bush used the 2001 AUMF as justification for military action an additional 17 times, and President Obama used it 19 times. Trump has picked right up where his predecessors left off.


Last December, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, seeking clarification on the status of the reported 2,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

In January, David J. Trachtenberg, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Policy), and Mary K. Waters, Assistant Secretary of State, provided official responses to Sen. Kaine’s questions.

Trachtenberg correctly claimed the 2001 AUMF “authorizes the United States to use force against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces,” but then incorrectly added it also permitted actions “against ISIS.” The Islamic State didn’t exist for a full decade after the passage of the 2001 AUMF and so clearly did not authorize military action against them.

Trachtenberg also claimed the 2002 AUMF authorized the U.S. to “to assist the government of Iraq both in the fight against ISIS, and in stabilizing Iraq following the destruction of ISIS’s so-called caliphate.” Such goals are outright nation-building efforts and have not been authorized by any congressional action.

Secretary Waters’ response actually expanded the set of nation-building tasks. The United States, she said, is “committed to helping stabilize liberated communities (in Iraq and Syria) through activities including restoring basic essential services, de-mining, and facilitating our partners’ transition to sustainable, self-sufficient security forces and credible, inclusive governance.”  

Even using the wildest interpretations possible, no AUMF has ever authorized the U.S. government to assist the government of another country to fight internal battles, authorize military operations against ISIS supporters worldwide, and obligated the U.S. to restore basic services to cities throughout the Middle East. Even more critical, the conditions necessary to end our involvement are virtually impossible to attain.

Moreover, there is an aspect of these AUMFs that received little attention, and that is how it affects the troops who are deployed to fight.  

I was sent to Afghanistan in 2011 on my last combat deployment before retirement. The administration told the American people we were still fighting in Afghanistan in support of the 2001 AUMF, yet it was painfully evident during my deployment that the mission had morphed well beyond the mission authorized by Congress.

I saw how senior U.S. military and administration officials were telling the public that the war was going well, yet it was obvious as I travelled throughout that country that the mission was not progressing as the officials had claimed. Furthermore, the mission was in no way keeping our country safe from future terror threats.

It hurt me deeply and angered me greatly when I watched as some American soldiers were killed or suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, all for a mission that was disconnected from its original authorization.

I was so disturbed that upon my return, I took the very unusual step of challenging our senior leaders and publicly telling the truth about Afghanistan. I was certainly not the only trooper to feel this way.

American service members are loyal, devoted to the country, and will do all in their power to accomplish any mission given. They are not, however, mindless robots. I talked to hundreds of men in Afghanistan during my deployment and many were frustrated at the claim they were there to prevent another 9/11 because they knew we were accomplishing nothing of the sort.

Before the administration sends another soldier into harm’s way, Congress owes it to all uniformed service members to debate the matter and if useful, authorize it. However if they deem the mission unnecessary or unwise, Congress should refuse to appropriate one dollar. 

Unfortunately, Congress has not pushed back on a single military operation, funding all without complaint, and refusing to demand or employ a new authorization.

The result has been as clear as it has been predictable: U.S. national security has not been improved by the myriad combat missions undertaken over the past 17 years, and in many parts of the world, the violence has only increased. That must now change.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

Tags Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists Foreign relations of the United States Government Iraq Resolution James Mattis Rex Tillerson Tim Kaine War in Afghanistan

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