New Congressional Authorization Needed Against Evolving Terrorist Threats

For Release

December 7, 2015

The existing authorization given to the U.S. military to conduct counterterrorism operations is ill suited to defeat international terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The U.S. Congress should pass new legislation to identify a clear purpose for counterterrorism operations, authorize the broadest possible range of military operations against ISIL and associated groups, impose adequate reporting requirements and include a reasonable renewal term, according to the report.

“Acting now would send a clear message about U.S. commitment to future counterterrorism operations and telegraph continued U.S. resolve to the American public and the world,” said Christopher S. Chivvis, lead author of the report and a senior political scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “History suggests that the threat is evolving and therefore so should U.S. authorities.”

The terrorist groups the United States faces are no longer those that most threatened the United States back in 2001, yet most U.S. military operations against terrorists are conducted under legal authorities that date from that era.

The fight against al Qaeda is not yet over and any attempt to rescind the original 2001 authorization without replacing it with a new authorization would be a dangerous strategic miscalculation, according to researchers.

“Congressional authorization is ultimately less about whether the president can use force against ISIL, or any other terrorist group for that matter, than it is about demonstrating unwavering Congressional support, and therefore broader public support, for enduring counterterrorism efforts,” said Andrew Liepman, a study co-author and a senior policy analyst at RAND. He is a former deputy director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center.

The study was supported by funding from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The report, “Authorities for Military Operations Against Terrorist Groups: The State of the Debate and Options for Congress,” can be found here at

The research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense intelligence community.

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