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October 30, 2017

Statement for the Record on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force


The recent deaths of 4 U.S. service members in Niger have prompted members of Congress to give renewed attention to the scope of war authorities that govern U.S. counterterrorism military operations abroad. Within days of the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed an authorization for use of military force (“AUMF”) against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 or harbored such organizations or persons.” This language is widely understood as authorizing force against al Qaeda, who planned and committed the attacks on the United States on 9/11, and the Afghan Taliban, who had harbored al Qaeda before and after the attacks.

The 2001 AUMF is also expressly limited to using force to prevent future acts of terrorism against the United States by the entities responsible for 9/11, not their associated forces, successor entities, or unaffiliated terrorist organizations. Indeed, Congress expressly rejected the executive branch’s request for broad and open-ended authority to use military force against other terrorist groups without specific authorization from Congress.

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Yet for nearly 16 years, longer than any war in the nation’s history, the executive branch has been using the 2001 AUMF as the primary legal basis for military operations against an array of terrorist organizations in at least seven different countries around the world. Some of these groups, like ISIS and al Shabaab, not only played no role in the 9/11 attacks, but did not even exist at the time Congress authorized the use of force in 2001. 

The executive branch’s continued reliance on the 2001 AUMF for military operations far beyond what Congress originally authorized undermines Congress’ important constitutional role as the branch responsible for the decision to go to war. As Senator Todd Young noted during a keynote speech at the Heritage Foundation in May of this year, the founders entrusted Congress with the decision to go to war to "avoid foolish, hasty, unnecessary, and perpetual wars that tend to accrue debt and erode liberty." The lack of any sunset provision or reporting requirements in the 2001 AUMF also restricts the ability of Congress to conduct meaningful oversight over military operations and the foreign affairs of the United States.

This untenable state of affairs has other dangerous consequences as well. Continued reliance on outdated and ill-defined war authorizations that blur the line between war and peace undermine national security, U.S. leadership in the world, and human rights both at home and abroad.