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In September of 2001, Congress approved the Authorization for Use of Military Force to deploy armed forces to use “necessary and appropriate force” against those behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Sixteen years later, that same document is still being used to justify continuing military action in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Article I of the Constitution explicitly grants Congress alone the power to declare war. Accordingly, Congress must assert its war powers by requiring a new AUMF to end a blank check that has allowed three presidents to fight whenever and wherever.

Nebraska Republican Rep. Don Bacon is among four congressmen – two Republicans and two Democrats – who recently introduced a new AUMF in the House. Seeing how the war on terror has evolved in a way that hardly resembles its 2001 form, a new, specific authorization would rein in and refocus a war that has far exceeded its declared intent.

A 2016 Congressional Research Office report indicated administrations had cited the 2001 AUMF on 37 occasions under the Bush and Obama administrations in connection to military actions in 14 countries on three continents.

Drone strikes carried out in East Africa under President Obama, for instance, are, at best, tangentially related to the Sept. 11 attacks – despite being justified under the same order. The Department of Justice has also invoked it to defend warrantless surveillance, a program we’ve long opposed as being illegal and in violation of Americans’ civil rights.

Bacon, a retired Air Force general, hit the nail on the head when he said: “Article I of the Constitution bestows on Congress the authority to declare war and Congress needs to do its job. Our military must know it has the support of the American citizens … reflected by Congress debating and voting on the use of lethal military force.”

Momentum to clarify and specify who and what the U.S. military is combating is promising.

A House committee approved an amendment this summer to wind down the existing authorization in hopes of approving an update, though that measure later died. Now, Bacon and the bipartisan coalition want to harness that energy in pursuit of a belated resolution.

Further buoying the effort, the Trump White House told Congress that it isn’t specifically seeking a new AUMF – but had no opposition to the passage of one, according to The Hill. Defense Secretary James Mattis also indicated support for a new authorization to the House Armed Services Committee.

Given the high costs, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, of the ongoing war on terror, Americans deserve to know the precise scope of this war. Congress, in turn, must capitalize on this newfound drive to reclaim its atrophied war powers and pass an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force that specifically spells out who and why Americans troops are fighting.

—Journal Star. Oct 18, 2017


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