The Obama Administration has waged nearly 2,300 airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria for the past six months to the tune of around $8.3 million a day.
Nevertheless, top members of Congress expect the President to ask this week for authorization to fight ISIS.
At issue is whether or not the Obama Administration can continue to attack ISIS under congressional authorizations the Bush Administration received in 2001 and 2002 to attack Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11. The Pentagon has made clear that the Administration can claim the authority to fight “associated forces” of al-Qaeda in countries like Mali, Libya, and Syria.
But President Obama called in November for specific authority for ISIS, which split from al-Qaeda last year, calling them a “different type of enemy.” Republicans have said that Obama hasn’t yet asked for a new authorization for use of military force—or AUMF—because the Administration doesn’t yet have a strategy for defeating ISIS, which has gained global attention for broadcasting medieval brutality with 21st century technology.
Here are three major questions the Administration is expected to address in its request to Congress.
Will it allow combat troops on the ground?
At the end of 2014, the then-10 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced a bill that would ban sending ground troops to fight ISIS unless they were needed to protect U.S. forces and citizens from an “imminent danger” or to gather intelligence and assist allies. That proposal, put forward by New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, is similar to a House Democratic AUMF proposal, which would also allow special operations forces. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has said she is a “blanket no” on sending combat troops on the ground.
Foreign policy hawks, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, are the biggest backers of boots on the ground. Graham recently said 10,000 U.S. forces would be needed to defeat ISIS, which controls an area roughly double that of Massachusetts. And while many Republicans may live in the McCain camp, those elected as Tea Partiers are all over the map: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is opposed to ground troops, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is open to the prospect and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul largely supports the Democrats’ provisions limiting their use.
Overall, 55% of Americans believe the U.S. should not send ground troops to fight ISIS, according to an October Pew survey, compared to 39% of Americans who favor it.
How long will it last?
Pelosi said last week that the Administration is focused on a three-year timeframe, which would put the Administration’s request in line with the proposals of Menendez and Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who put forward his own AUMF plan. There are some Senate Democrats like Tom Udall of New Mexico and Tim Kaine of Virginia who have argued for an even stricter “sunset” of one year. With the exception of Paul, who also prefers one year, most Republicans have advocated for an expanded time frame.
Will it be constrained to Iraq and Syria?
Some lawmakers such as Paul, Udall and Schiff want to restrict the Administration’s authorization to Iraq and Syria. But Menendez’s plan would only require the President to submit a report on the geographic scope of the military operations. McCain and other hawks want the Administration to have the flexibility to fights ISIS wherever they are.