The State Department said Wednesday that the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) provides sufficient legal grounds to shoot down Syrian government jets if they interfere with the fight against the Islamic State group.
Following a U.S. fighter jet shooting down a Syrian government warplane on June 18, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the State Department to provide legal justification for that action and others.
“The United States does not seek to fight the Syrian Government or pro-Syrian-Government forces,” the State Department responded Wednesday in a letter provided to TPM. “However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportional force to defend U.S., Coalition, or partner forces engaged in the campaign against ISIS.”
The congressional debate over the 2001 AUMF — which has since been used to justify military action worldwide, and against foes unrelated to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks — has bubbled to the surface this year, though so far congressional leadership has stymied efforts to vote on a new AUMF to address the Islamic State specifically.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) reacted with surprise when the House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly in June to support her amendment sunsetting the 2001 AUMF and leaving eight months for Congress to write a new one.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) subsequently stripped the amendment before it reached the House floor for a vote as part of a much larger bill.
Politico noted in its report on Wednesday’s letter that Defense Secretary James Mattis has urged Congress to vote for a new AUMF, saying in his first public hearing in that position that he didn’t understand “why the Congress hasn’t come forward with this, at least to debate.”
Corker said on June 20 that he believed “that the Congress must fulfill its constitutional duty of authorizing war” but that “the failure to bridge differences and to pass a new AUMF could create a false impression of disunity during a time of war.”
The Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the issue on Wednesday, behind closed doors.
Read the State Department’s response to Corker, from Charles Faulkner of the Bureau of Legislative Affairs, below: