President Barack Obama is stretching legal bounds he created for himself by expanding the US military campaign against the extremist group Islamic State into Syria, say congressional advocates who think Congress should return to Washington immediately and begin debate on a new authorization of military force.
"I think they're on nonexistent legal ground, but unfortunately I don't see a way of stopping that," Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told Business Insider on Tuesday, later adding, "I think this is illegal."
The US and partner allies began striking the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, late Tuesday night. With those and additional strikes carried out Tuesday and Wednesday, the US military has hit 20 ISIS-held targets in Syria to go along with nearly 200 strikes in Iraq over the past six weeks.
The US' airstrikes Monday night also targeted a group, known as the "Khorasan," that until late last week no high-ranking US official had ever publicly mentioned. By Tuesday, President Barack Obama and Department of Defense officials stressed they were an "imminent threat" in the "final stages" of execution of a plan to carry out possible attacks on US and European soil.
But the expanded campaign brings about legal questions — some of which the Obama administration has brought upon itself by urging a narrower scope on counterterrorism operations.
Senior administration officials said Tuesday that they believed Congress' 2001 authorization of military force that passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks provided legal basis for striking both ISIS and the Khorasan group.
The administration's reasoning is this, according to the senior US officials: the Khorasan group is made up of "seasoned" al-Qaeda "veterans." The 2001 authorization provides for the use of force against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated groups.
ISIS also falls under the 2001 AUMF, these officials said, because of its previous affiliation with al-Qaeda. The group had a highly public falling out with al-Qaeda earlier this year, and their roots trace back to the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.