The end of the US war against Al-Qaeda?

The government of Pakistan is reportedly in talks with the US to end the latter’s drone strike program in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Jalil Abbas Jilani, the individual responsible for revealing the existence of such talks to the Pakistani Parliament, has alleged that “[the] US says that al-Qaeda has been eliminated to a large extent due to these attacks; it has been reduced and will be further reduced in coming days.”

This monumental claim – if true – could very well mark the end of the supposed legal authority of the US to conduct targeted killings of individuals, predicated on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force or AUMF. As explained in an article by Cora Currier at ProPublica:

But legal scholars say the AUMF’s authority to detain and kill militants may be undermined if there is no “core” al-Qaida group to speak of, or when active conflict in Afghanistan ends.  It may also falter when it isn’t clear exactly how a group or individual is tied to al-Qaida – such as in the web of militant and extremist groups operating in Africa and elsewhere that may claim an affiliation or be ideologically aligned.

“There’s room for shoe-horning them into the AUMF,” says Robert Chesney, a professor at University of Texas School of Law. “But any honest assessment has to concede it’s not obvious that all the more loosely affiliated groups are encompassed.”

The AUMF doesn’t include an expiration date. But the law does have its limits, says Chesney. “It’s not claiming an armed conflict with all terrorism, but with al-Qaida and its associated forces. In theory, there can come an end.”

Last November, shortly before he stepped down as the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson gave a speech on that end. He spoke of a “tipping point,” when the U.S. counterterrorism efforts “should no longer be considered an ‘armed conflict’ against al-Qaida and its associated forces.” Counterterror efforts would then be aimed against individuals and could be handled primarily by law enforcement.

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