Senate panel demands Trump’s legal rationale for shooting Syrian jet

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has formally requested the Trump administration’s legal justification for the U.S. military recently shooting down a Syrian jet and other confrontations between U.S. forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a committee aide confirmed Thursday.

Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had promised to do so during a committee hearing this week, and the aide confirmed Thursday that Corker “followed up with a request of the State Department as he explained during the hearing.”

On Sunday, the U.S. military shot down a Syrian jet it said was firing on its partnered local forces on the ground. It was the first time the United States had shot down a Syrian plane and the first time a U.S. military jet has shot down any manned aircraft since 1999.

That was followed early Tuesday morning with a U.S. jet shooting down an armed Iranian-made drone. The military has said the drone was being operated by pro-Assad forces, but not specifically which ones.

That incident happened at al Tanf, where U.S. forces are training local partnered forces. It was the fourth confrontation between pro-Assad forces and the United States there, including another downing of an Iranian-made drone.

The U.S. military has justified the actions as self-defense. In the case of the jet downing, the military added that it was “in accordance with rules of engagement.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford also suggested the 2001 authorization for the use of military force justified the jet downing since that is what is providing the legal rationale for U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We are there and have legal justification and the authorization of use of military force. We are prosecuting a campaign against ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria,” Dunford said Monday.

That explanation caused some to scratch their heads since the target was the Syrian government, not ISIS or al Qaeda.

“Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson stood before us and admitted, as such, that there is zero legal authority, not even through a perversion of the 2001 or 2003 AUMF, to begin military action against the Syrian regime,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said during the Foreign Relations hearing. “And yet, it seems as if this isn’t a series of one-off incidences. We now have five incidences in 45 days.”

Tags Bob Corker Chris Murphy

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