al-Shahaab Raid Justified by AUMF

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On October 5, 2013, US Navy SEALS conducted a raid to capture Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, a Kenyan national, in Somalia.[1] Abdikadir is a senior member of al-Shabaab,[2] the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.[3] 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,[4] 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.”[5] 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.”[6] 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 limitations.”[7]

The 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.”[8] 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.[9] As a result, does the AUMF give the U.S. Department of Defense authority to engage in military operations in Syria?[10] Would the AUMF give them authority to conduct operations in less volatile locations, such as India?[11] The AUMF gives the United States broad power to use force in an international context, the real question is how broad is that power?

[1] Bill Roggio, US Justifies Somalia Raid Under AUMF, Which Obama Seeks to Repeal, The Long War Journal (Oct. 8, 2013),

[2] 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

[3] Faith Karimi, Steve Almasy & Lillian Leposo,Kenya Mall Attack: Military Says Most Hostages Freed, Death Toll at 68, CNN (Sept. 23, 2013),

[4] NATO Assistance to the African Union, North American Treaty Organization,

[5] Press Release, U.S. Department of Defense, supra note 2.

[6] S.J. Res. 23, 107th Cong. (2001).

[7] Robert Golan-Vilella, Time to Narrow the AUMF, The National Interest (Sept. 18, 2013),

[8] Abdalle Ahmed, Spencer Ackerman, & David Smith, How the US Raid on al-Shabaab in Somalia Went Wrong, The Guardian (Oct. 9, 2013),

[9] See, e.g., Nick Tattersall, Al Qaeda's Rise in Northern Syria Leaves Turkey with Dilemma, Reuters (Oct. 17, 2013),

[10] 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),

[11] Al-Qa’ida 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),

Posted by Max P. Biedermann on Wed. February 12, 2014 8:00 AM
Categories: Africa, African Union, AUMF, Customary International Law, Kenya, Somalia, Syria, Terrorism

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