Kerry: 'Enduring' offensive means 'weeks and weeks of combat'

Kerry: 'Enduring' offensive means 'weeks and weeks of combat'
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Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryTrump's rejection of the Arms Trade Treaty Is based on reality Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie becomes first African to deliver Yale graduation speech Dem Sen. Markey faces potential primary challenge in Massachusetts MORE said Tuesday that the ban on U.S. troops engaging in "enduring offensive ground combat operations" against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria meant "weeks and weeks of combat." 

Kerry's comments at a Senate hearing came as he made the case for the president's proposal for an authorization for use of military force against ISIS. He said some U.S. soldiers could be embedded with Iraqi troops overnight, but argued this would not be in violation of the ban on enduring ground offensive operations.

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"If you're going in for weeks and weeks of combat, that's enduring. If you're going in to assist somebody and fire control and you're embedded in an overnight deal, or you're in a rescue operation or whatever, that is not enduring," he said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the State Department's budget.

The language has prompted criticism from Republicans who say that it is too restrictive and ties military commanders' hands, as well as from Democrats who say the it is too vague and could lead to another ground war.

Kerry said the word "enduring" actually came from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

"I think it was language that was proposed by Congress, in fact. I think Senator Menendez and Senator Corker may have put that together," he said. A spokesman for Corker later said "he has never proposed an AUMF with this language."  

Kerry said the White House agreed that the language "left the president the appropriate level of discretion with respect to how he might need to do, without [any] room for interpretation that this was somehow being interpreted to be a new license for a new Afghanistan or a new Iraq." 

Kerry added that the president decided the language would also gain the most support from Congress. 

"What we want is as large a vote as possible for Congress to say Daesh deserves to be defeated, and we're committed to the fight," he said, using an derogatory Arabic nickname for ISIS.

The president's proposed AUMF also would sunset after three years and would repeal the 2002 AUMF used for the Iraq War, but would leave in place the broad 2001 AUMF the White House is using now for the ISIS war, extend authorization for military force to associates of ISIS and have no geographic limitation. 

Kerry said the AUMF would sunset after three years in order to allow the next president to reevaluate the war effort and not be bound by it. 

He also said he saw "no real need" to revaluate the 2001 AUMF used for the Afghanistan War and for the current U.S. efforts against ISIS. 

Some Democrats say the 2001 AUMF is overly broad and needs to be reevaluated, and renders the effort for a new AUMF moot.  

Kerry said the president supported Congress refining and adjusting the 2001 "if it is necessary." 

The debate on a new AUMF takes on more significance as the U.S. military prepares to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces attempt to retake Mosul — Iraq's second largest city — from ISIS as early as April or May. 

Pentagon officials have said that a limited number of U.S. military advisers could accompany Iraqi forces into battle to retake Mosul. 

Some Democrats said Tuesday a new AUMF should be in place before the offensive begins. 

"Absolutely," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who introduced an AUMF measure last year. "The obvious reason, you need to show the country's united." 

However, other Democrats said the administration would do what is needed regardless of a new AUMF. 

"We are already engaged with our airpower and our training activities and that's going to go forward. I think what's going to drive the activity in Iraq is what's happening on the ground, not legislatively. I mean, we have to continue to pursue this and support the Iraqi forces," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

"It is [important], absolutely. I think it should be done properly, but I don't think given the fact we're already engaged and it's critical that we do so, that we cease the engagement until we get the AUMF," he said. 

-- Updated at 5:08 p.m.