On October 5, 2013, US Navy SEALS
conducted a raid to capture
Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, a Kenyan national, in Somalia. Abdikadir is a senior member of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the deadly
attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Considering that U.S. embassy operations are currently
suspended in Somalia, and the United States is not engaged in a military
conflict with Somalia outside of performing support obligations to the Africa
Union through NATO, under
what authority was the United States acting?
In a press release from the U.S. Department of
Defense, the U.S government justified the raid “under legal
authorities granted to the Department of Defense by the Authorization to Use
Military Force [(AUMF)] (2001) against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces.” The AUMF
authorizes the President of the United States “to use all necessary and
appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he
determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that
occurred on September 11, 2001, . . . in order to prevent any future acts of
international terrorism against the United States.” The law has been broadly interpreted by the
President and the Department of Justice to the point that some suggest, “the
law ha[s] become the basis for a boundless war with no geographical or temporal
U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, commented on the raid stating that
although the operation was unsuccessful in capturing Abdikadir that the
operation in “Somalia [sent] a strong message to the world that the United
States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where
they hide or how long they evade justice.” This statement by Chuck Hagel demonstrates the
fact that the United States has no reservations about engaging in military
operations in jurisdictions where the United States is not currently involved in
sanctioned military engagements. Therefore,
state sovereignty is not always a bar to U.S. military action abroad.
This belief and the power of the AUMF could have broad implications on
other conflicts that the United States is not currently engaged in. For example, al-Qa’ida linked fighters have
been linked to various groups involved in the civil war in Syria. As a result, does the AUMF give the U.S.
Department of Defense authority to engage in military operations in Syria? Would the AUMF give them authority to conduct
operations in less volatile locations, such as India? The AUMF gives the United States broad power
to use force in an international context, the real question is how broad is
 Bill Roggio, US Justifies Somalia Raid Under
AUMF, Which Obama Seeks to Repeal, The Long War Journal (Oct. 8, 2013), http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/10/us_justifies_somalia.php.
 Press Release,
U.S. Department of Defense, Statement by
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little on U.S. Operations in Somalia (Oct.
7, 2013), available at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=16297.
 Faith Karimi, Steve Almasy & Lillian Leposo,Kenya Mall Attack: Military Says Most Hostages Freed, Death Toll
at 68, CNN (Sept. 23, 2013), http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/22/world/africa/kenya-mall-attack/.
 NATO Assistance to the African Union, North
American Treaty Organization, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_8191.htm.
 Press Release, U.S. Department of Defense, supra note 2.
 S.J. Res. 23, 107th Cong. (2001).
 Robert Golan-Vilella, Time to Narrow the AUMF, The
National Interest (Sept. 18,
 Abdalle Ahmed,
Spencer Ackerman, & David Smith, How
the US Raid on al-Shabaab in Somalia Went Wrong, The Guardian (Oct. 9,
 See, e.g., Nick Tattersall, Al Qaeda's Rise in Northern Syria Leaves Turkey
with Dilemma, Reuters (Oct. 17, 2013), http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/17/us-syria-crisis-turkey-qaeda-idUSBRE99G06C20131017.
 That question
is complicated especially considering the facts that al-Qaeda backed fighters
are fighting against the Assad regime, and that there is considerable
opposition to any foreign intervention in Syria by international powers, such
as Russia. See Peter Bergin, Al Qaeda's Potent
Force in Syria, CNN (Aug. 30, 2013), http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/29/opinion/bergen-al-qaeda-power-syria/.
has recently attempted to establish a foothold within India’s Muslim population
and has called for a Jihad against Indians that are fighting in the contested Kashmir
region between India and Pakistan. SeeAl
Qaeda’s Latest Bid to Woo India’s Muslims, International Relations and Security
Network (Oct. 17, 2013), http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?lng=en&id=170939.
Posted by Max P. Biedermann on Wed. February 12, 2014 8:00 AM
African Union, AUMF, Customary International Law, Kenya, Somalia, Syria