In comments that will likely add to the push for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to be drafted, Sen. Tim Kaine (D – VA) has pointed out that recent US strikes inside Syria against the Syrian government and its allies are “unlawful” under the current AUMF.
The whole operation in Syria is on dubious footing under the 2001 AUMF, which President Obama initially cited sending troops to Syria, but Sen. Kaine noted that the AUMF only authorized action against the perpetrators of 9/11, and that “nobody claims that Syria was a perpetrator. Nobody claims that they are connected to al-Qaeda. In fact, they’re battling against al-Qaeda in Syria.”
Kaine and Sen. Jeff Flake (R – AZ) are pushing a new AUMF designed to replace the 2001 version, and that version would explicitly focus on ISIS and al-Qaeda, as opposed to the vague “perpetrators” language that the old version uses. Neither would permit attacks on Syrian military targets, however.
The Pentagon argued that last weekend’s attack on a Syrian Su-22 bomber was “collective self-defense” intended to protect the Kurds from Syria’s military. This is, however, well beyond the scope of the supposed US mission in Syria, which is to fight against ISIS, as was a previous flurry of Tomahawk missiles fired at a Syrian Air Force base a few months prior.
There were some debates on a new AUMF back in 2015, but they never advanced to a proper vote on the question, and since then administrations have basically treated the lack of a specific new AUMF with specific limits as tantamount to a limitless authorization to go anywhere without approval.