US White House circulates proposal to authorise war on Islamic State

February 12, 2015 3:37 am

The White House has circulated a proposal to authorise the US
military to fight Islamic State but assure Congress there
would be no “enduring offensive combat” role, officials say.
The
ambiguous wording was designed to satisfy lawmakers with widely varying
views on the need for ground operations, the officials said.

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobane following an airstrike by the US-led coalition. Photo / AP
Democratic
Senator Bob Menendez said US President Barack Obama would seek
authorisation for the use of force that would expire after three years.
It would also end the approval for operations in that Congress passed in 2002.

Mr Menendez spoke with reporters after he and other Democratic
senators met privately with top White House aides, on the eve of an
anticipated formal request for legislation from the president.
“Hopefully there will not be a significant delay in Congress acting,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
The
meetings unfolded against a fresh reminder of the threat posed by
terrorists who occupy large areas of and Iraq – the confirmed death of a 26-year-old American aid worker who had been held hostage by the group.
Obama pledged to bring anyone responsible for Kayla Mueller’s captivity and death to justice “no matter how long it takes”.
Of
immediate concern was a legislative struggle – the search for a
compromise that could satisfy Democrats who oppose the use of American
ground forces in the fight against , and Republicans who favour at
least leaving the possibility open.

Bipartisan support sought

Mr Menendez, in describing the White House’s opaque formulation, said it remained subject to modification.
He
also said it was not yet clear if the proposal would cancel a 2001
authorisation for the use of force that Congress approved shortly after
the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Emirati pilots at an air base in Jordan prepare to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State group yesterday. Photo / AP
Emirati pilots at an air base in Jordan prepare to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State group yesterday. Photo / AP
Republicans control both houses of Congress, and presidents
generally court bipartisan support for legislation of the type Mr Obama
now seeks.
Several other lawmakers who were briefed in earlier
meetings, said the president would likely seek legislation targeted
exclusively against the fighters seeking establishment of an Islamic
state, wherever they are and whatever name they use.
Apart from
the midday meeting with Democrats in the Capitol attended by White House
Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, some Republicans expressed concern with
other elements of the administration’s emerging proposal.
Senator
Lindsay Graham, a Republican, said administration officials had told
him it would not provide for the protection of US-trained Syrian rebel
troops on the ground in the event of an air attack by Syrian forces
loyal to President Bashar Assad.
“It’s an unsound military
strategy. I think it’s immoral if the authorisation doesn’t allow for us
to counter Assad’s air power,” he said.
There was little evident
dispute in Congress that new legislation was needed, both to replace
outdated authorisation and also to underscore a bipartisan desire to
defeat the terrorists seeking an Islamic state.
Among members of
Mr Obama’s Democratic party, Representative Steny Hoyer said during the
day that some rank-and-file lawmakers want to set geographic limits and
restrict the types of forces that can be used.
“They want some
time limit so we can reconsider at some point in time, whether it’s 24
months, 36 months, 48 months,” he said at a conference.
Many
Republicans have said they preferred legislation that at least
permitted the use of ground troops if Mr Obama decided they may be
necessary.
Some, including Senator John McCain, have gone
further, saying ground troops are needed if the Islamic State fighters
are to be defeated.

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