Democrats on a US Senate panel on Thursday unanimously supported a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group without US ground troops.
In a 10-to-8 party-line vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a three-year AUMF that would supersede the open-ended one passed in 2001 and 2002 in the aftermath of al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks on the United States.
There is broad consensus that lawmakers should fully debate the use of military force in Iraq and Syria, but that will occur in 2015 under a Republican-controlled Congress.
Democrats went on record however stressing the need for Congress to retain the power to declare war, and underscoring their opposition to the White House's open-ended use of 12-year-old authorizations to conduct military action today.
The new AUMF would "envision boots on the ground, they're just not American boots," Democratic committee chairman Senator Robert Menendez argued, as it does not allow US combat troops to be deployed in the fight, except in specific instances such as intelligence activity or the rescue and protection of US personnel.
Committee Republicans, who did not participate in the vote, strongly opposed the voted decision.
Members of the US-led coalition meeting last week in the region made initial pledges that would bring "close" to 1,500 forces to Iraq to train and assist the country's army, in addition to the Americans already mobilized, Lieutenant General James Terry told reporters in Kuwait City.
Menendez also warned that Congress taking no action would allow the White House to keep acting under earlier “war-on-terror” authorization.
"If we wait for an administration – this or any other one – to send us their language for an AUMF and they never do it... they have a veto over the constitutional imperatives and prerogatives to declare war," he said.
There are already about 1,500 US troops in Iraq providing security for the American embassy and advising the Baghdad government's army and Kurdish forces.
Late November, the Pentagon announced that some 1,500 new US troops authorized to “advise and train” Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS militants will be deployed in Iraq within the next few weeks without waiting for Congress to fund the mission.
US President Barack Obama said he was relying on the previous authorization against the Taliban and other "terrorists" of 2001, and the Iraq invasion authorization of 2002, to do so.
Many US lawmakers contest the legality of such actions.
"This is really in many ways a standoff between the parties... but also with the administration," Senate Democrat Barbara Boxer acknowledged, "I draw another line in the sand as far as another ground war."
The administration is opposed to geographical limitations on military action or restrictions on ground troops.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has argued that the president must be free to adapt to future developments in the conflict against jihadists, although, under the US Constitution, it is Congress that has ultimate power on whether to declare war.
Republicans are largely in line with the White House, preferring to leave the president with sufficient flexibility to prosecute the war.
And Senator Bob Corker, the panel's likely incoming chairman, suggested it was unwise to pass a new force authorization amid confusion Obama's efforts to craft a successful plan for defeating ISIS.
"I have no earthly idea how the administration plans to go about degrading and destroying (ISIS) in Syria," an exasperated Corker told the panel.
The US-led, anti-ISIS coalition has already carried out some 1,100 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq since September targeting ISIS militants in a bid to defeat the group, which has captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria,declaring a "caliphate" in the territory it seized.
However, critics of the coalition have pointed at the fact that the airstrikes haven’t stopped ISIS advances in certain instances, and that the group has held its ground in some areas that have been under intense fire from coalition airstrikes, like the key Syrian town of Kobane.
Moreover, the influx in “terrorist” attacks all over the world, particularly in Iraq, raises questions about the effectiveness of the US "war on terror" launched by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks, which included the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the contrary, the campaign in general and the US invasion of Iraq in particular have served as a recruitment tool for militant groups such as ISIS.
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