Amid Congressional Push to Scrap AUMF, Biden Orders Another Strike Against Iran-Backed Militias

Patrick Goodenough | June 27, 2021 | 9:11pm EDT
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U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over Iraq. (File photo by Suzanne Jenkins/U.S. Air Force via Getty Images)
U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over Iraq. (File photo by Suzanne Jenkins/U.S. Air Force via Getty Images)

( – For the second time since taking office, President Biden on Sunday authorized what the Pentagon described as “defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region.”

“The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Three operational and weapons storage facilities were targeted near the border – two inside Syria and two in Iraq.

The targeted facilities were used by Iran-sponsored Shi’ite militias including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, Kirby said. The same two groups’ facilities were bombed during the previous airstrike ordered by Biden, on February 25.

“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel,” Kirby said. “Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks.”

The Pentagon stressed that U.S. forces were in Iraq at the invitation of the elected government, “for the sole purpose” of helping the Iraqi forces in their effort to defeat the Sunni terrorists of ISIS.

(The statement did not refer to Syria in the same vein; the Assad regime has never agreed to the U.S. military presence in the country it purports to govern.)

“The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Kirby said.

While the Pentagon said Sunday’s airstrikes were in response to UAV attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, the Feb. 25 strikes were in retaliation for a rocket attack on a base in Erbil, Iraq, which killed a Filipino contractor and injured an American service member.

The Pentagon on Sunday briefly laid out the international and domestic legal justification for the latest strikes.

In terms of international law, the action was taken in line with the U.S. right to self-defense, with the strikes “both necessary to address the threat and appropriately limited in scope.”

And with regard to domestic legal authorization, Kirby said Biden acted in keeping with his authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, to protect U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

The White House also invoked Biden’s Article II powers after the earlier airstrikes, but progressive Democrats criticized that military action on the grounds Congress had not authorized it.

On Sunday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) did so again, tweeting, “This constant cycle of violence and retribution is a failed policy and will not make any of us safer. Congress has authority over War Powers and should be consulted before any escalation.”

The latest airstrikes come amid a new push on Capitol Hill to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), which the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations used to justify military actions inside Iraq.

The Biden administration did not invoke the AUMF for the Feb. 25 strike. Even so, in response to it Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a resolution with bipartisan support to scrap both the 2002 AUMF and the 1991 AUMF which provided authorization for Operation Desert Storm.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was to have voted on Kaine’s resolution last week, but instead chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) agreed at the request of several Republicans on the committee to postpone the move, and schedule a hearing on the matter in early July.

The House of Representatives earlier this month passed a resolution to scrap the 2002 AUMF by a 268-161 vote, with 49 Republicans voting in favor, and one Democratic opposing.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already pledged to bring legislation repealing the 2002 AUMF to the floor for a vote, and the White House has also signaled support, saying in a statement of policy that doing so “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”

The Assad regime’s SANA news agency reported early Monday that a child had been killed and three other civilians injured after “a warplane believed to be American attacked residential houses near the Syrian-Iraqi border in the countryside of Al Bukamal with missiles.”

Al-Bukamal is a city on the Euphrates River, just inside Syrian territory, near a key border crossing linking Iraq’s Anbar province with Deir ez-Zor province in Syria. February’s U.S. airstrikes were carried out in the same vicinity.

SANA charged that the U.S. action was designed to “undermine the efforts of the Syrian state and its allies to enhance security and stability in the eastern region, eliminate the remnants of ISIS terrorists and prevent their infiltration between Iraq and Syria.”

Kata’ib Hezbollah, backed by Iran’s Qods Force, has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization since 2009. It has a history of deadly attacks against U.S. forces dating back to the Iraq War.

Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, another Iranian proxy, was formed in 2013 to fight in Syria in support of the Assad regime. It also operates in Iraq where it and Kata’ib Hezbollah are both part of the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces.

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