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Senate Marine veteran pushes new war authorization

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind.

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 6, 2017

WASHINGTON — A Marine veteran newly elected to the Senate is hoping to reignite calls for Congress to pass its first new war authorization of U.S. military operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere since 2002.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., a former Marine intelligence officer who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill last week that could reopen the debate over war powers as President Donald Trump reviews a new Pentagon strategy against the Islamic State group and wages new bombing in Yemen. Several House lawmakers are also pushing for an updated authorization for the use of military force, known as an AUMF.

“We have a moral obligation to weigh in from time to time about issues pertaining to military force and when we send out young men and women into battle,” said Young, who beat out an established Democrat in the fall election. “To the extent we delegate that authority to the commander in chief, we act in a less than ethical and a less than constitutional fashion.”

He said a new AUMF would let servicemembers know “the American people are behind them.”

Under the Constitution, Congress retains the power to declare war but it last passed war authorizations in 2001 after 9/11 to root out al-Qaida in Afghanistan and in 2002 to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Some lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have begun questioning whether that aging legislation is still appropriate as the wars and U.S. enemies have morphed over more than a decade.

Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delivered a new plan to the White House that the Pentagon says could rapidly defeat the Islamic State group and potentially mean a deeper U.S. commitment in Syria, including more ground troops.

The Pentagon has also carried out more than 30 airstrikes against an al-Qaida group in Yemen in recent days following a raid in January that resulted in the death of Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens.

The existing 2001 authorization covers al-Qaida and affiliated groups, and Congress has been reluctant to update it. Debates over the past three years have petered out even after the administration of President Barack Obama requested a new authorization.

In 2015, lawmakers resurrected the AUMF debate after Obama announced 50 special operators would assist rebel groups in Syria. U.S. forces there have now grown to more than 500 and might have an increasing role during the push to reclaim the Islamic State group’s stronghold in Raqqa.

Young said Monday that he has yet to shop his bill around but hopes to build support on the Foreign Relations Committee as the Trump administration works toward finalizing its new Islamic State strategy.

“Whether or not this receives [Senate] floor time or significant co-sponsorship I think it’s very important that elected representatives speak in a clear and unambiguous voice about the need to formally authorize force in these sorts of circumstances,” he said.

In the House, a bipartisan group of 19 lawmakers sent a letter last month to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., urging him to bring AUMF legislation to the chamber floor.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a longtime critic of the U.S. wars, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., whose district includes Camp Lejeune, were the first to sign the letter and have introduced a bill to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.

The Feb. 17 letter to Ryan called out Congress for failing to pass updates during the last three years of the Obama administration and echoed some of the concerns from 2015 when special operators moved into Syria.

“We are alarmed that the Pentagon is considering U.S. troop deployment in northern Syria in addition to the Special Operations forces already deployed there,” the lawmakers wrote.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

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