U.S. troops staying in Syria, Iraq indefinitely

U.S. troops aren’t going to be leaving Syria or Iraq anytime soon. Undersecretary of Defense David Trachtenberg sent a letter to Virginia Senator Tim Kaine late last month confirming American forces would be in the two countries indefinitely. The Pentagon believes the authorization of use military force from 2001(!) gives them plenty of power to stay in the Middle East, even though ISIS has (allegedly) been defeated (emphasis mine).

The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) authorizes the United States to use force against al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces and against ISIS. DoD remains particularly focused on targeting ISIS and al-Qa-ida in Iraq and Syria. US. and partner forces in both countries continue to fight ISIS and al-Qa’ida and disrupt terrorist attack plotting. The Department of Defense is not targeting other militias or organizations, including Shia militia groups or Iranian proxies…

Although U.S. and Coalition-backed forces have liberated the vast majority of the territory ISIS once held in Iraq and Syria, more tough fighting remains ahead to defeat ISIS’ physical “caliphate” and achieve the group’s permanent defeat. ISIS is transitioning to an insurgency in Iraq and Syria, while continuing to support the global terrorist operations of its branches, networks, and individual supporters worldwide. Just as when we previously removed US. forces prematurely, the group will look to exploit any abatement in pressure to regenerate capabilities and reestablish local control of territory. As ISIS evolves, so too, is the campaign to defeat ISIS transitioning to a new phase in Iraq and Syria. is optimizing and adapting our military presence to maintain counterterrorism pressure on the enemy, while facilitating stabilization and political reconciliation efforts needed to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. We, along with the Coalition and our partners, remain committed to ISIS’ permanent defeat. ISIS will be defeated when local security forces are capable of effectively responding to and containing the group, and when ISIS is unable to function as a global organization.

The letter, for those wondering, was sent a month after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared ISIS defeated, and National Review’s David French then asked why no one was really discussing said defeat. No one is celebrating because the U.S. is doing its best imitation of Usher’s “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” when it comes to military engagement.

It’s not the just Defense Department pointing out the military will stay in Syria and Iraq. The State Department is also backing up DoD’s letter, with a February 12th missive to Kaine essentially admitting the mission had gone beyond original perimeters set up by Congress (emphasis mine).

The 2001 AUMF also provides authority to use force to defend U.S., Coalition, and partner forces engaged in the campaign to defeat ISIS to the extent such use of force is a necessary and appropriate measure in support of counter-ISIS operations. The strikes taken by the United States in May and June 2017 against the Syrian Government and pro-Syrian-Government forces were limited and lawful measures taken under that authority to counter immediate threats to US.
or partner forces engaged in that campaign. The United States does not seek to fight the Government of Syria or Iran or Iranian-supported groups in Iraq or Syria. However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend U.S., Coalition, or partner forces engaged in operations to defeat ISIS and degrade al-Qa’ida. There has been no assessment that either the Syrian Government or pro Syrian-Government forces are “associated
forces” of ISIS under the 2001 AUMF.

The 2002 AUMF provides authority “to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” The 2002 AUMF is an important source of authority for the use of military force to assist the Government of Iraq in military operations against ISIS and in continuing counterterrorism operations to address threats to US. national security emanating from Iraq following the destruction of ISIS’s so-called physical “caliphate.”

Yeah, that’s twisting the words of the 2001 AUMF. The 2001 resolution authorized the President, “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons…” The BBC reported no one is really sure when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became radicalized, noting it could have been during Saddam Hussein’s reign or after the U.S. invasion into Iraq. ISIS’ preceding group didn’t become affiliated with al-Qa’ida until 2004, and wasn’t involved involved in the September 11th, 2001 attack.

The 2002 AUMF defense is also hazy.

(a) Authorization.–The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to–
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

(b) Presidential Determination.–In connection with the exercise of the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force the President shall, prior to such exercise or as soon thereafter as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that–
(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and
(2) acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorist and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

The government’s defense of the previous AUMF just isn’t going to work when it comes to justifying continued military action in Iraq and Syria. The latter country isn’t even mentioned in either resolution. All this shows is President Donald Trump’s hypocrisy from his campaign rhetoric asking why we’re involved in Syria, his agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the military not being an option, and his quote to Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo, “We are not going into Syria.” Anyone who has paid attention to Trump’s pre-presidential run knows he’s as interventionist as his predecessors, including a Trump Organization YouTube video (which went private at some point last year) where he endorsed involvement in Syria and Libya.

Michigan Congressman Justin Amash has summed up what Trump should do.

Will Trump do it? Of course not, because the precedent was set by President Barack Obama. He should do it though to end this endless war, and take Americans out of harm’s way. After all, war…war never changes.