US justifies Somalia raid under AUMF, which Obama seeks to repeal

In a statement citing the Authorization to Use Military Force, which was passed by Congress after the 9/11 attacks on America, the US military yesterday justified the Oct. 5 raid by US Navy SEALs that targeted a senior Shabaab leader in Somalia. But just four months ago, President Barack Obama called for the repeal of the AUMF, claiming that the law will “continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.”

The Department of Defense cited the AUMF in a press release announcing the raid that targeted Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, also known as Ikrima, a Kenyan who serves as a senior Shabaab leader and coordinates the group’s operations outside Somalia with al Qaeda’s central command in Pakistan.

“The goal of the operation was to capture Ikrima under legal authorities granted to the Department of Defense by the Authorization to Use Military Force (2001) against al-Qa’ida and its associated forces,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in the statement released on the DoD’s official website. Ikrima was not captured during the raid.

Little described Ikrima as “a top commander in the terrorist group al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate,” who had been “closely associated” with two deceased senior al Qaeda operatives, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh al Saleh Nabhan. Fazul, a senior Shabaab commander who was al Qaeda’s former leader in East Africa, was killed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu in 2011. Nabhan also served as a top leader in both Shabaab and Al Qaeda East Africa, and was instrumental in facilitating the official merger of al Qaeda and Shabaab. Both men were wanted for their involvement in al Qaeda’s 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

But the Pentagon’s use of the AUMF to justify the raid to capture Ikrima comes just four months after Obama gave a speech at the National Defense University calling for the repeal of the law. Obama painted a rosy picture of the war in Afghanistan and al Qaeda, claiming that the former is “coming to an end” and the latter is “a shell of its former self.”

“I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing. The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old,” Obama said. “The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States.”

Shabaab was not mentioned by Obama as posing a threat to the United States.

While urging that the time to repeal AUMF had come, Obama said that efforts to target “terrorist organizations must continue,” but he did not outline how the groups are to be targeted, or how such action would be justified absent the AUMF.

“So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate,” Obama continued. “And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end.”

Just weeks after Obama gave his speech at NDU, Representative Adam Schiff introduced a bill to sunset the AUMF as of Dec. 31, 2013. The bill was defeated in the House by a vote of 185 to 236, with 12 abstentions. Support for the repeal of the AUMF has increased drastically in the past two years. In 2011, only one Representative voted against the AUMF.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Mark says:

    I cannot believe this Progressive president.
    Is he going to ask his Ambassador Samantha Powers to craft a justification using R2P?
    The international community cannot come up with a justification under their convoluted and tortured interpretations of the international law to or any law combat piracy.
    The Romans under Pompey eradicated piracy in 4 months in the Mediterranean (some dispute about this. See Cicero).
    China eradicated piracy on the Mekong River. It entered into agreements with Burma, Laos and Thailand to do so.
    Some foreigns services officer, international law lawyer, politicians or someone else who drools, will say that we cannot attack pirate bases because it would violate the sovereignty of a nation in this case Somalia. These are the same people, who call Somalia a failed state or ungoverned space.
    It is conscious effort to do nothing, to put one’s own people in a Catch 22.

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    What does the presence or absence of a law have to do with what obama does?

  • Bungo says:

    I don’t understand something here. All SEAL operations are “secret” until it’s not secret. Why in the world is DOD shooting off their mouths about a SEAL operation 24 hours after it occurred AND spouting off operational details AND the goal of the operation AND that the operation was not a complete success. I’m flabbergasted. Shout out to DOD : Keep your stupid mouths shut about all covert operations, ESPECIALLY those involving SEALs and ESPECIALLY those ops that didn’t quite work out. Seriously, I’m floored. Is this the Admin’s new SOP? I don’t get it. Who’s running the show over there?

  • blert says:

    This was supposed to be a successful snatch operation — just like the Libyan op.
    The Pentagon/CIA did not want the target dead. He has too much intel value that is fresh.
    The SEALS expected to own the night and creep up on the creep. However, the fanatics have figured out that they can survive by surrounding themselves with a boy-slave army. These are the so-called ‘civilians’ reported in the open press.
    The boy-slave ‘soldiers’ / bullet stoppers can be seen in other photo releases, from time to time.
    The war in the Congo is entirely dominated by such ‘troops.’
    As for all of the yapping: it’s pure Washington politics. Obama has entirely dropped the clandestine nature of SEAL ops — when it suits him. Even the press releases on this op are entirely spun.
    I suspect that America is going to have to give up on capturing such players. Their boy-slave bullet stoppers have put paid to even clever snatches. Of course, after the recent Kenyan op, the target knew he was in the cross hairs.
    Tactically, it would seem that going Roman on the fanatics is the only way the West will get any relief. We’re going to have to just accept that the opfor is massively composed of drastically under age ‘troops.’
    Famously, the last line of defense for Hitler were just such youngsters. See the flick Downfall. The United Nations did not spare such combatants — not at all.

  • mehtevas says:

    @ Bungo
    “Leaks” (Aka Unnamed officials, NYT, etc.) and public announcements are carefully planned and executed for a multitude of reasons. That includes what you watch on your favorite news channel, read in your favorite paper. Generally, reporters get information from governments when they want to “inform” the public.
    Kansas City Shuffle.

  • Mark says:

    What do you mean?
    That international law does not matter?
    That international law has been perverted and thus is a joke?
    Or that Obama disregards laws in general?
    I think you mean the latter.

  • Bungo says:

    This was not a leak. This was an official Department of Defense press release (or some such ). I can understand taking responsibility for a successful mission such as that in Libya. I understand it but I don’t approve of talking about it publicly and mentioning Delta Force by name. Up until now that has been strictly forbidden. What I simply can’t understand is why the administration would take ownership of a “failed” special forces mission AND throw the SEALS under the bus at the same time when all they had to do was keep quiet about it and no one would be able to prove anything! Therefore I still don’t know what the upside of taking ownership of a “failed” OP would be unless you wanted to drag the names of those involved through the mud. Do you? If so I’d love to hear it.

  • mehtevas says:

    @ Bungo
    No need for caps. No one said this was a leak. “…up until now this has strictly been forbidden”. That statement can’t be further from the truth, there has been multiple announcements, including published books, and “leaks” of ops for sometime, all for good purpose.
    Roughly speaking, between the end of 2009-2011 in Afghanistan, we captured 3/4 leaders and killed the other 1/4 during KC missions. (I’m going off memory from a research paper conducted back in 2011 by AAN.)
    Simplistically, you will fail in a capture 25% of the time.
    Note: This is pretty flawed, as you would probably have a different mind set in a pure capture mission. Most Afghan operation were in rural areas, the data set wasn’t fully complete (ISAF press release based), and those ops were not operated solely by SEALS. Finally, those leaders are varying levels on seniority ranging from squad level leaders to battalion strength.)
    Therefore I’d revise this figure upward closer to 50%.
    SEALS can and do fail, as do other Special forces, it is the nature of the business. If you don’t accept that missions such as this can fail, you are not being realistic. Although the primary may not be achieved, a ripple in the pond effect can still be seen. The op is long finished, but the effects are still being felt. (i.e. Drawing forces from elsewhere to look East, paranoia, distrust, changing of safe houses, watching movement of forces to gauge strength, etc.)


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram