Cover: Authorities for Military Operations Against Terrorist Groups

Authorities for Military Operations Against Terrorist Groups

The State of the Debate and Options for Congress

Published Jul 22, 2016

by Christopher S. Chivvis, Andrew Liepman


Download eBook for Free

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.5 MB Best for desktop computers.

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

ePub file 0.3 MB Best for mobile devices.

On desktop computers and some mobile devices, you may need to download an eBook reader to view ePub files. Calibre is an example of a free and open source e-book library management application.

mobi file 0.7 MB Best for Kindle 1-3.

On desktop computers and some mobile devices, you may need to download an eBook reader to view mobi files. Amazon Kindle is the most popular reader for mobi files.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback62 pages $14.00

Research Questions

  1. How relevant are current counterterrorism authorizations to terrorist threats today?
  2. What specific changes might be desirable to existing legislation?
  3. Is new legislation needed?
  4. What would be the operational and political impact of any changes?

The United States has been undertaking counterterrorism operations against current threats under authorizations established in 2001 and 2002. Relying on this legislation is far from ideal, however, and Congress could update these authorizations to better reflect the current counterterrorism challenge. In early 2015, the Obama administration submitted its own draft authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to Congress, the content of which has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle. U.S. interests also face a developing threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The need to dismantle the group's terrorist and military capacity has gained new urgency, and it presents an opportunity for Congress to weigh in. This report surveys the main lines of debate over the requirements for a new AUMF. It assesses the terrorist challenge to which any such legislation should respond, outlines the purposes of such legislation, offers suggestions about key elements, and assesses congressional options. A principal challenge for Congress is to craft an authorization for operations against both the old, persistent threat (al Qaeda, its affiliates, and other jihadist groups) and the new, emerging threat (ISIL and its allies). Congress faces six considerations in deciding whether and how to move forward to pass a new AUMF: (1) whether to impose geographical limitations on the authorization, (2) whether to place limits on ground forces, (3) how groups or individuals are identified, (4) the stated purposes for using force, (5) reporting requirements, and (6) sunset and renewal clauses.

Key Findings

The United States Now Uses Military Operations Against Terrorist Groups in Multiple Ways

  • Military operations targeting terrorist organizations and safe havens may deter cooperation among these groups, reduce recruitment, restrict terrorist mobility, and hamper the groups' effectiveness.
  • Combat operations are often conducted in conjunction with other types of operations, including training and equipping partner forces, strategic communication, providing logistical or other support to forces being trained, providing support for development projects, and guiding institutional reforms.

Existing Authorizations for Such Operations Are Largely Outdated

  • The legislation under which the U.S. military conducts counterterrorism operations worldwide against al Qaeda dates from 2001. The AUMF provides the executive branch with broad authorization to conduct military operations against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and their associates.
  • The terrorist threat has changed considerably since the 9/11 attacks, with the evolution of al Qaeda and its expansion into new areas and with the development of ISIL. Congress may wish to pass an AUMF to respond to the current terrorism climate.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and 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.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.