Trump White House Believes It Can Strike ISIS and Al-Qaeda 'Anywhere, Anytime'

Jack Moore

President Donald Trump and his national security team believe they have enough legal authority to strike the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda anywhere in the world, a senior White House official said Tuesday. 

Marc Short, White House director of legal affairs, made his comments ahead of a debate in Congress on an amendment by anti-interventionism Republican Rand Paul, who has questioned the legality of U.S. use of force against radical Islamists overseas. 

Senator Paul, of Kentucky, has issued an amendment to the $700 billion annual defense policy bill, set to go before lawmakers Wednesday, that questions the legal basis of Trump's increasing use of force in Syria.

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It proposes an update to the authorization given to the U.S. military to take action against extremist groups after the 9/11 attacks, and that the current version be wound down after six months and replaced with a new law. Both sides of Congress agree that a new version for the war on radical Islamist groups is required.

The senator, who is a supporter of non-intervention, believes that the current authorization and the use of it to enter other conflict zones is one that allows the president to take the U.S. into war at his own choosing.

"What we have today is basically unlimited war anywhere, anytime, anyplace upon the globe," Paul said in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

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But Short, speaking at a breakfast briefing reported by the Associated Press, said that the Trump team had authorization already given to the U.S. military for the use of force after 9/11 in 2001.

Critics of the current legal authorization for action against extremist groups say that it is outdated as ISIS did not exist and there was no U.S. need to become embroiled in Syria at the time. Now, the U.S. is leading a bombing campaign in the country wracked by civil war against ISIS positions. A 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq also remains in place. The U.S. government is using both to justify its battle against ISIS and other radical Islamist groups outside of Iraq.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (C) returns to his office after bringing the Senate into session at the U.S. Capitol July 31, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Senate GOP leadership was unable to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

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Paul said he hopes “my colleagues will finally vote to do their constitutional duty. But even if my colleagues say, ‘War, war, that’s the answer everywhere, all the time,’ by golly come down and put your name on it.”

The amendment has opposition, and the main argument of critics is that rolling back the amendments without a new one to fill the gap could leave U.S. forces at a disadvantage abroad, as it would not be certain that lawmakers agreed on an alternative within the six-month period. 

"I do think we have to act, but I think what the proponents (of Paul's amendment) are missing is that our action will not be immediate," said Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the most senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

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