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Congress Should Authorize Military Action Against ISIS: Pentagon

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. testify before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq and its Implications for the Region on Dec. 1, 2015. Andrew Harnik/AP
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. testify before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. Strategy for Syria and Iraq and its Implications for the Region on Dec. 1, 2015. Andrew Harnik/AP

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told lawmakers on Tuesday they would welcome congressional authorization for the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Carter told members of the House Armed Services Committee that administration lawyers maintain the White House is on solid legal ground to conduct operations against ISIS. Even so, an authorization for the use of military force from Congress "would be helpful ... because you can't do enough to show the troops that we're behind them," he said.

Dunford agreed. "I absolutely believe a clear and unequivocal statement of support for the men and women prosecuting the campaign ... from their elected officials would be absolutely helpful," he said.

President Obama asked for a new authorization to use military force against the terrorist organization in February, but has had no luck getting it through Congress. Obama's request stipulated the authorization would last for three years.

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Republican members of Congress led by then-House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, were dismissive of the request. The GOP lawmakers, dissatisfied with Obama's efforts thus far to roll back the Islamic State's gains in Syria and Iraq, said the president had no strategy for bringing about an end to the terrorist group.                                               Boehner in May said Obama should "withdraw the authorization [request] and start over."

In his draft proposal, still posted on the White House website, Obama said the requested authorization would not include "long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those ... conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan." Instead, he committed to using local forces to conduct ground operations. 

But Obama also asked for "flexibility" to use ground combat troops in some circumstances, such as rescue missions, the use of Special Operations forces against ISIS leadership, and in situations when combat is not usually expected, such as when gathering or sharing intelligence, preparing strikes or planning with or advising partner forces.

Obama has been relying on the authorizations Congress handed to President Bush following 9/11 and, later, for the invasion of Iraq.

The endorsement from Carter and Dunford for a new authorization was prompted by Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, who asked the two "if it would help your cause if the Congress met its constitutional responsibility" and legislatively backed the campaign against ISIS.

Carter said he asked himself two questions when the president proposed the authorization, also known as an AMF or AUMF.

"The first is whether the AMF as the president proposed it would work," he said. "My answer is yes. The second thing I asked myself is would this show to our troops that their country is behind them?"

"For that reason, I think it's desirable to have an AMF," he said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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