Obama Sends Letter to Congress Seeking Authorization of ISIS Fight

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday formally askedCongress to authorize a three-year military campaign against the terrorist group the Islamic State that would avoid a large-scale invasion and occupation but in addition to air power could include limited ground operations by American forces to hunt down enemy leaders or rescue American personnel.

A proposal sent by the White House to Capitol Hill on Wednesday would formally give the president the power to continue the airstrikes he has been conducting since last fall against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, as well as “associated persons or forces.” The measure would set limits that were never imposed during the wars of the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq by expiring in three years and withholding permission for “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

But in a letter to Congress accompanying the proposal, Mr. Obama, who has said there would be no boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria, envisioned limited ground combat operations “such as rescue operations” or the use of “Special Operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership.” He also said the legislation would allow the use of ground forces for intelligence gathering, target spotting and planning assistance to ground troops of allies like Iraq’s military.

“If left unchecked, ISIL will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland,” Mr. Obama wrote. While he repeated his contention that “existing statutes provide me with the authority I need,” he said he wanted to work with Congress to obtain bipartisan support. “I can think of no better way for the Congress to join me in supporting our nation’s security than by enacting this legislation, which would show the world we are united in our resolve to counter the threat posed by ISIL.”

The proposal was the first time a president has sought congressional approval for force since lawmakers voted in 2002 to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. Mr. Obama pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011 but has sent a limited number back as part of his campaign against the Islamic State. His proposed legislation would repeal the 2002 authorization but leave in place separate legislation passed in 2001 allowing force against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.


Mr. Obama, who plans to make a statement at the White House at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss the matter, repeated in his letter his desire to work with Congress to “refine and ultimately repeal” the 2001 measure and distinguished his limited mission from the wars waged by his predecessor.


“My administration’s draft A.U.M.F.,” or Authorization for Use of Military Force, “would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he wrote. “Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations.”


Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he welcomed Mr. Obama’s decision to seek the involvement of Congress in the military campaign. “It also will be important that the president exert leadership, lay out a clear strategy for confronting the threat posed by ISIS, and do the hard work of making the case to the American people why this fight is necessary and one we must win,” he said in a statement.


Mr. Corker said hearings would be scheduled to consider the matter and repeated his support for passage of a force measure. “Voting to authorize the use of military force is one of the most important actions Congress can take,” he said, “and while there will be differences, it is my hope that we will fulfill our constitutional responsibility, and in a bipartisan way, pass an authorization that allows us to confront this serious threat.”


But the contours of the debate to come were already clear on Wednesday. While some Republicans were concerned that Mr. Obama’s proposal was too constricting, setting the stage for an ineffectual effort, some Democrats quickly expressed concern that the measure would still give the president the power to go too far.


Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he worried that the president’s proposal set no geographic limits to the military campaign and that the definition of associated forces was too elastic. Moreover, he argued that unless it repealed the 2001 measure authorizing force against Al Qaeda and its affiliates or set a timetable for its expiration, the three-year limit on Mr. Obama’s measure was effectively meaningless because the next president could continue the war by claiming the authority of the earlier legislation.


“Additionally,” Mr. Schiff said, “a new authorization should place more specific limits on the use of ground troops to ensure we do not authorize another major ground war without the president coming to Congress to make the case for one.”


Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the majority leader in the upper chamber, offered a cautious, noncommittal response to the president’s request and said the Republican conference would meet later Wednesday for a discussion to be led by Mr. Corker and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.


“Individual senators and committees of jurisdiction will review it carefully and they’ll listen closely to the advice of military commanders as they consider the best strategy for defeating ISIL,” Mr. McConnell said.

Source: New York Times