A Costs of War report reveals the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force has been cited to justify counterterrorism operations in 22 countries.

A new report on where the wide-ranging 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) has been used to justify US counterterrorism activities reveals a worrying lack of transparency and oversight.

According to the Brown University’s Costs of War Project, Washington has often failed to describe its counterterrorism operations around the world, and that between 2018-2020 the US undertook such operations in 85 countries.

Using data from the Congressional Research Service, Costs of War research found the AUMF had been cited to justify counterterrorism activities in 22 of the 85 countries.

Even within those 22 countries, there were an “unknown” number of US operations.

The report said the US executive branch over the course of four administrations often used “vague language to describe the locations of operations, failing to accurately describe the full scope of activities in many places, and in some cases simply failing to report on counterterrorism hostilities.”

In some cases when the AUMF was cited, regions as opposed to countries, were referenced.

One example was the former Obama administration, which reported in 2013 that its forces captured an Al Qaeda member but “made no reference to a continued US airstrike campaign, even though the US conducted three strikes against militants in Libya that same year”.

Obama also used the AUMF to kill former Al Qaeda propagandist and US citizen Anwar al Awlaki in 2011.

In other cases, the executive branch reported on “support for CT operations,” but did not acknowledge that troops were or could be involved in hostilities with militants.

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The report also described evidence of US conducted airstrikes in Mali and Tunisia, but Washington did not report those hostilities to Congress nor make any reference of the military authorisation.

“There are several cases of combat and airstrikes since 2001 that various presidents have not reported to Congress,” Stephanie Savell, co-director of the Costs of War Project and author of the report, said in a press release.

In some instances, the US only cited the AUMF after it was revealed that its personnel were killed, as was the case in Niger when four US service members were killed in an ambush during a raid on a militant compound in 2017. Then-President Trump only mentioned the AUMF after the incident came to light.

Will the AUMF be repealed?

US Congress passed the AUMF in the aftermath of 9/11, giving the executive branch the power to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the 9/11 attacks to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the US.

Under the AUMF, which is still in effect today, Congress relinquished its constitutionally assigned war powers in the fight against terrorism, ceding final responsibility over decisions regarding war to the president.

Since the passing of the 2001 AUMF, the Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have all referenced the authorisation in their reporting to Congress on US military hostilities in a growing number of countries to fight a number of militant groups, including Al Qaeda, Daesh (IS) and Al Shabaab.

Over the past two decades, there have been multiple attempts to repeal the AUMF, but none have proved successful.

While the Biden administration has claimed to be on board with narrowing war authorisations, the AUMF has not been discussed. Meanwhile, Biden has backed congressional efforts to repeal the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq war.

The House Committee on Appropriations passed an amendment this August which would sunset the 2001 AUMF after eight months. But like many similar pieces of legislation that have died in the Senate over the years, it doesn’t appear to be moving forward.

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