- US senators push for ISIL war authorization
US lawmakers have launched a campaign to test the limits of presidential war powers, introducing measures for a declaration of war against the ISIL terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria.
President Barack Obama declared a war against the ISIL group back in September with administration officials saying the US president had the power to take action unilaterally based on the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lawmakers in both parties, however, believe the Obama administration does not have the authority to wage a new war in the Middle East that has not been properly authorized by Congress.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a likely presidential contender, attempted to force a vote on a declaration of war Thursday. Paul offered his legislation as a last-minute amendment to an obscure clean water bill.
Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised objections and Sen. Paul eventually withdrew his proposal under the promise that he would get a separate debate on the issue.
House Speaker John Boehner said Obama should submit an authorization in the new Congress.
“I’ve got grave concerns that … the plan he’s put in place is not going to accomplish the goal of defeating and destroying ISIL,” said Boehner.
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also launched a last-ditch effort on Thursday for a legal justification for the military campaign against ISIL. Outgoing Democratic chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, said members had reached an agreement to hold hearings with an eye towards voting on an authorization next week.
Senators will discuss the issue with administration officials during a public hearing on Monday. Menendez said Secretary of State John Kerry or another top official from the Obama administration would testify at a hearing.
Republicans, however, said even if the Democrats accomplish the authorization, the House and the Senate would ignore it when they gain control of Congress. Democrats will hand full control of Congress over to Republicans next month.
President Obama ordered airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria in September. The air campaign is an extension of air raids in Iraq conducted since August.
The ISIL group made swift advances in much of northern and western Iraq over the summer after capturing large swaths of northern Syria. The US-led campaign has been widely criticized for failing to effectively limit the advance of the militants.
- ISIL ‘advances towards eastern Syria airbase’
The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) has said it has taken control of a village near a key government airbase that it now plans to target in the province of Deir ez-Zor.
ISIL on Thursday claimed it was advancing towards the strategic military base, located just outside of the provinical capital, which has long been used by government forces to launch air raids on opposition fighters.
Members of ISIL uploaded a video to social media purportedly showing the armed group in control of the Al Jafra village.
Gaining control of the area surrounding the base is also important to access its rich oilfields, which has been fought over since the country’s conflict began in 2011.
Another one of ISIL’s main targets in the region is a large weapons depot.
ISIL currently governs over most of Deir ez-Zor, including the provincial capital, but the Syrian government has maintained control over some parts of it.
Losing the strategic airbase could be a major blow to government forces in the province.
- ISIS sets up training camps in Libya: U.S. admits a ‘couple of hundred’ militants have gathered in country at various sites as group’s reach grows
U.S. general: ISIS has training camps in Libya
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, which overran large areas of Iraq and Syria, has set up training camps in eastern Libya and the American military is closely monitoring, a top U.S. general said Wednesday.
Western countries have been increasingly worried that Libya’s political turmoil could provide fertile ground for Islamic extremists, but General David Rodriguez ruled out military action on the “nascent” camps in the immediate future.
“They put training camps out there,” Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters, referring to the ISIS organization that seized territory in Iraq and neighboring Syria this year in a brutal and swift offensive of beheadings and forced religious conversions.
He described the ISIS activity in eastern Libya as “very small and nascent.”
“Around a couple hundred” militants were present at the camps and U.S. forces would continue to track the area to see if the ISIS presence expanded, said Rodriguez.
The United States has been waging an air war against the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria, but when asked if the training camps in Libya were a potential target for American forces, Rodriguez said: “No, not right now.”
The ISIS group “has begun its efforts over in the east out there to introduce some people over there,” he said.
“But we’ll have to just continue to monitor and watch that carefully in the future to see what happens or whether it grows on unabated.”
The four-star general said it appeared the ISIS militants in Libya were not volunteers coming from outside the country but militia members who had shifted their loyalty to the jihadist group.
His comments came after the U.S. government and European allies voiced “grave concern” over mounting violence and civil unrest in Libya.
Experts have warned that ISIS group has gained a foothold in the eastern town of Derna, exploiting the chaos that has engulfed the North African state.
Libya has been plagued by instability since the overthrow of autocratic leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi recently boasted of vows of allegiance from militants in the country.
Analysts say a number of factions in Derna have pledged loyalty to the ISIS group, but it remains unclear how much support they enjoy.
ISIS, which aims to establish an Islamic “caliphate” across the region, is the prime target of the US-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.
The group has attracted a wave of global revulsion after a series of horrific executions of Western hostages filmed and released online, as well as gruesome videos depicting the beheadings of Syrian and Iraqi forces.
While largely based in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has also attracted pledges of allegiance from militant groups in Egypt, with the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Partisans of Jerusalem) group last month vowing support for the group.