President Donald Trump’s national security brain trust faces Congress on the need for a new war authorization as the deadly ambush in Niger is igniting a push among many lawmakers to update the legal parameters for combat operations overseas.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday. They told the panel behind closed doors three months ago that a 2001 law gave the military ample authority to fight terrorist groups.
Lawmakers have argued that the dynamics of the battlefield have shifted over the past 16 years and it’s well past time to replace the post-Sept. 11 authorization with a law that reflects current threats.
Roughly 800 U.S. service members are in Niger as part of a French-led mission to defeat the extremists in West Africa. There are hundreds more American forces in other African countries.
Beyond that, Trump approved a troop increase in Afghanistan, the site of America’s longest war, and the U.S. backs a Saudi Arabia-led coalition carrying out airstrikes in Yemen.
The Senate just last month voted to reject a bipartisan push for a new war authorization against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, electing to let the White House rely on the 16-year-old law as the legal basis to send U.S. troops into combat.
Senators voted 61-36 scuttle an amendment to the annual defense policy bill by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have allowed war authorizations, created in the wake of al-Qaida’s 9/11 strikes, to lapse after six months. Paul, a leader of the GOP’s noninterventionist wing, said Congress would use the time to debate an updated war authority for operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere before the old ones expired.
GOP leaders said voting to rescind existing war authority without a replacement in hand risks leaving U.S. troops and commanders in combat zones without the necessary legal authority they need to carry out military operations.
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