Obama to seek limits on troops for I.S. fight

Feb 11, 2015, 4:07 AM EST
The view of damaged houses during the clashes between the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and Kurdish armed troops in Kobane (Ayn al-arab) city of Syria, on January 30, 2014.
AFP/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama will propose to Congress on Wednesday a new three-year authorization for the use of force against Islamic State with limits on U.S. combat troops' involvement, Reuters reports, citing statements from aides and lawmakers.

Obama has defended his authority to lead an international coalition against Islamic State since Aug. 8 when U.S. fighter jets began attacking the jihadists in Iraq. But he has faced criticism for failing to seek the backing of Congress, where some accuse him of breaching his constitutional authority.

Facing pressure to let lawmakers weigh in on an issue as important as the deployment of troops and chastened by elections that handed power in Congress to Republicans, he said in November he would request formal authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF.

An outline of that request, expected to be handed to Congress on Wednesday, could stir debate over how U.S. troops should be deployed and the extent of U.S. engagement in Iraq and Syria.

The proposal would allow the use of special forces and advisors for defensive purposes but bar "enduring offensive ground forces," lawmakers and aides said. It would not, however, set geographic limits for the campaign against the group.

Until now, Obama has justified U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria under a 2001 authorization passed after the Sept. 11 attacks and a 2002 authorization used by President George W. Bush in the Iraq war. The new proposal would repeal the 2002 authorization but leave in place the 2001 AUMF, which has been invoked by the White House to carry out drone and missile strikes against suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen and Somalia.

In advance of the release, writes Bloomberg News, top White House and State Department officials have been briefing lawmakers and Congressional staffers about their proposed legislation. Two senior Congressional aides relayed the details to me.

The president’s AUMF for the fight against Islamic State would restrict the use of ground troops through a prohibition on “enduring offensive ground operations," but provide several exemptions. First, all existing ground troops, including the 3,000 U.S. military personnel now on the ground in Iraq, would be explicitly excluded from the restrictions.

After that, the president would be allowed to deploy new military personnel in several specific roles: advisers, special operations forces, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to assist U.S. air strikes and Combat Search and Rescue personnel.

Under the president’s proposal, the 2002 AUMF that was passed to authorize the Iraq war would be repealed, but the 2001 AUMF that allows the U.S. to fight against al-Qaeda and its associated groups would remain in place.

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