The White House insisted Thursday that President Barack Obama was authorized to strike the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria under a law passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Obama believes he can act under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), despite previously calling for the law to be revised, and ultimately repealed.
“It is the view of this administration that the 2001 AUMF continues to apply,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, on the somber anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington.
The AUMF was signed into law a week after the September 11 attacks and used as the legal basis for the broad US campaign against international terrorism that followed the Al-Qaeda strikes on the United States.
It says the president has the authority to go after Al-Qaeda and states that helped or harbored them, and its mandate has been widely interpreted by both the Bush and Obama administrations to allow wide anti-terrorism operations.
“The president has authority under the constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States,” the law reads.
Critics have questioned whether the spirit of the law truly allows US operations against groups that are not linked to Al-Qaeda or are offshoots of the group.
There are also some questions whether Obama’s intention to end combat operations by the end of the year in Afghanistan — the conflict directly triggered by the September 11 attacks — will invalidate the AUMF.
Obama’s rationale for not asking Congress for a new authorization to wage war is also coming under fire because Islamic State and Al-Qaeda — the organization from which it originally sprung — are publicly at odds.
But a senior White House official told reporters on Wednesday that although the United States had degraded Al-Qaeda, the president still had the authority to pursue other groups — styling them as “affiliates that have broken off or some organizations that have evolved into something different, as in the case of ISIL.”
Earnest argued Thursday that the operation against IS announced by Obama in a primetime address on Wednesday was permitted under the AUMF because it was once known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq and that a decade-long relationship between the organizations could not be disregarded.
He also argued that some of the key members of IS believe that they are the true inheritors of dead Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s legacy.
“The tactics of Al-Qaeda in Iraq have not changed simply because they’ve changed their name,” he said.
Earnest also argued that Al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal was to form a caliphate — an aspiration shared by IS.