WASHINGTON, Dec 6, (AP): The White House shed new light Monday on the legal foundations for President Barack Obama’s expansive use of US military power to target extremists overseas, in a report that also offered the first confirmation that the US now deems the al-Shebab group in Somalia to be inherently linked to al-Qaeda. In a 60-page report obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its public release, expected Monday, the administration said it believes the US can target al-Shebab, which seeks to establish a strict Islamic emirate, under a law Congress passed in 2001 just after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.
The decision reflects a deepening US engagement in the fight against Islamic militants in Somalia as well as a broadening application for the law initially written to authorize the president to target al-Qaeda. Until recently, the administration had not designated al-Shebab as part of the al-Qaeda conflict, which meant the US was limited to targeting individual Shebab leaders that the US determined were closely tied to al-Qaeda. Other strikes by the US in Somalia were justified as self-defense for US forces helping partners like the African Union.
The White House report offers the most comprehensive look to date at how the White House has adjusted its domestic and legal rationale behind the various conflicts the US has been engaged in since Obama took office, along with criteria the Obama administration used to determine which policies applied to which conflicts.
Obama, in a foreword to the report, said his administration had tried to apply “rules, practices and policies long used in traditional warfare” to a new type of conflict embodied by extremist groups, who often “do not wear uniforms or respect geographic boundaries” and show little regard for the rules of war. “To say that a military tactic is legal, or effective, is not to say that it is wise or moral in every instance,” Obama said.
For Obama, who ran for president aiming to rein in what he perceived as military excesses of the Bush administration, the report is an illustration of how his hopes of restoring checks on the commander in chief’s war-making powers ran into challenges posed by gridlock in Congress — and by Obama’s own inclination toward surgical strikes that don’t require a large, long-term US military footprint. “In short, al-Shebab has entered the fight alongside al-Qaeda and is a cobelligerent with al-Qaeda in hostilities against the United States,” the report says. Meanwhile, after eight years as a wartime president, Barack Obama is handing his successor an expansive interpretation of the commander in chief’s authority to wage war around the globe. And that reading has continued to grow even as Obama prepares to pass control to Donald Trump.
In his final weeks in office, Obama has broadened the legal scope of the war on extremism, the White House confirmed Monday, as it acknowledged for the first that the administration now asserts it is legally justified to take on the extremist group al-Shebab in Somalia.
The determination is based on an expanded application of a 9/11-era use of force authorization, a statute Obama has repeatedly leaned on to justify military operations. That rationale has raised concerns about how Trump might use Obama’s precedent to justify other overseas entanglements — without consulting Congress.
The White House staunchly defends Obama’s use of military power, arguing in a detailed report Monday that all operations have been firmly grounded in domestic and international law. White House counsel Neil Eggleston called the report — the first of its kind — a demonstration of how Obama has ensured “that all US national security operations are conducted within a legal and policy framework that is lawful, effective and consistent with our national interests and values.”