AUMF, “Associated Forces,” and Slippery Slopes: Two More Data Points

I recently examined, in an essay at Foreign Policy, the unusually expansive definition of associated forces and successor entities in the President’s proposed authorization to use force against ISIL. At bottom, the President is asking Congress and the American people to approve not only current operations — and potentially future ground combat forces — against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, but also future operations against other affiliated groups that crop up in other countries. Importantly, the language defining associated forces in the President’s proposal is written in a way that appears broader than the framework that the administration has long been using under the 2001 AUMF (see Marty Lederman’s post).

In case anyone doubts the potential for an expansive interpretation of “associated forces” in the draft AUMF, here are two more data points worth highlighting.

First, the New York Times ran a story on the eve of the President’s sending his text to Congress. Buried in the final paragraph, the Times explained what at least some U.S. officials have in mind. Check out the second sentence here:

The omission of any language setting geographic boundaries appeared to anticipate the possibility of attacking the group should it gain a foothold in Lebanon or Jordan, which has fought off sporadic attacks from Islamic State fighters. It could also be used to address future threats from small bands of violent Islamist militants in Libya, Yemen and other Middle Eastern and North African countries that have “rebranded” their identities to take the Islamic State name, and benefit from its notoriety, American officials said. (my emphasis added)

Still doubtful? Consider a second data point.

In a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, Sen. Roy Blunt (Rep-MO) took the opportunity to question U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen on the scope of the associated forces language in the President’s proposal. In response, Mr. Rasmussen said that the provision included “other networks, maybe not even formal groupings, but other networks” and he suggested it might include “affiliated relationships, or endorsement-like relationships, with groups outside of Iraq and Syria, including in North Africa, including in Algeria and including in, I believe, Yemen as well.”

Check out the video and text of the exchange between Sen. Blunt and Mr. Rasmussen.

The text of their interaction is below. 

 SEN. BLUNT: Another question I have, in – I noticed in the information that the president sent up yesterday for the Congress to look at, the focus was against ISIL or associated persons or forces. How would you define the second part of that? Associate, is that some – is that another terrorist group who actually is somehow fighting (inaudible)? What does that mean? Is that the al-Nusra? Is that some of these Al Qaeda groups that don’t appear to be that much in line with ISIL? What – how would you define associated persons or forces if you were me?

MR. RASMUSSEN: I guess I’d look at it and take it pretty much at face value Senator and concluding that that language likely allowed for the possibility that other networks, maybe not even formal groupings, but other networks might align themselves with ISIL. And, you know, as we know right now ISIL, ISIS is in conflict with core Al Qaeda and with Al-Nusra Front, the designated Al Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria.

SEN. BLUNT: So core Al Qaeda or Al-Nusra would not be included in that definition because they’re actually not associated with ISIL, I mean that’s my belief and I think that’s what you just said.

MR. RASMUSSEN: No, I’d have to check, but I guess what I’m saying when I look at the word associated forces I was thinking ahead to maybe the development of new alliances, new alignments that we can’t necessarily foresee today. I wasn’t trying to suggest that anybody was today in or out of that particular definition, inside or outside that particular definition.

SEN. BLUNT: I don’t want to take more time than I should here, but what – today, we have to base this, looking at this on what we do foresee today and I think what you’ve said are there significant terror groups that are clearly not associated with ISIL. Would that be right?

MR. RASMUSSEN: There are certainly terrorist groups that have not affiliated or associated at this point with ISIL. ISIL has reached out and developed affiliated relationships, or endorsement-like relationships, with groups outside of Iraq and Syria, including in North Africa, including in Algeria and including in, I believe, Yemen as well.

 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.