President Donald Trump's top military and foreign policy advisers insisted Monday that he has no need for a new Congressional authority to allow US forces to wage a global war against Islamist extremists.
US lawmakers are considering updating or repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed on September 14, 2001, three days after the attacks on New York and Washington by Al-Qaeda hijackers.
This would help them claw back their constitutional authority to pronounce on decisions of war and peace, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis insisted this would be premature and unneccessary.
"The United States has the legal authority to prosecute campaigns against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated forces, including ISIS, and is not currently seeking any new or additional congressional authorization for the use of force," Tillerson told senators.
"The 2001 AUMF remains a cornerstone for ongoing US military operations and continues to provide legal authority relied upon to defeat this threat."
Mattis agreed, and both senior figures insisted that if Congress was to seek to replace the AUMF it must not do so until another authorization must be ready to immediately and seamlessly replace it, to provide legal cover for ongoing operations and the detention of suspects.
"We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict against an adaptive enemy who would hope that we haven't the will to fight as along as necessary," Mattis warned.
"This is a fight against a transnational enemy, one that does not respect international borders and does not place geographic limites on their areas of operations."
Since the AUMF was passed, three presidents in succession have relied on the order's authority as they launched operations against armed Islamist groups in far-flung battle zones around the world.
Critics have long-contended that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump have exceeded the terms of an authorization initially aimed at Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization.
When four US soldiers were killed in an ambush by militants in Niger this month, many Americans were surprised to learn the Pentagon has deployed hundreds of troops in West Africa.
Some lawmakers are now pushing to reassert Congress's right, under the constitution, to decide when and where the United States can go to war, in the face of some White House resistance.
On Monday, Mattis and Tillerson brought the message to the Senate Foreign Affairs committee, chaired by Republican Trump critic Senator Bob Corker.
Corker said lawmakers were split on the path forward, unable to "bridge the gap" between those who want to craft a new, limited AUMF, and those who believe that "constraining the commander in chief in wartime is unwise."
Senator Ben Cardin, the committee's top Democrat, warned there was increasing opposition to an endless military authorization that essentially greenlights a "global endless shadow war."
In August, both Mattis and Tillerson testified behind closed doors on the same topic and afterwards Corker said they'd been "open" to the idea of revisiting the issue.
Since then, however, Corker has fallen out with Trump and become an open critic of the president, and calls for new oversight on US operations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have grown.
In September, anti-war Republican Senator Rand Paul attempted to pass an amendment to a funding bill that would have repealed the AUMF.
And, ahead of Monday's hearing, Democrat foreign relations committee member Senator Tim Kaine promised that Mattis and Tillerson would not get an easy ride in wake of the Niger deaths.
"After the deaths of service members in Niger this month, questions have risen about the extent of US military operations around the globe and the legal justification behind current military efforts," he said.
"At the hearing, Kaine will stress the need for a new AUMF to better define the US fight against terrorist organizations and to send a message to the troops, the American public, and US allies that Congress supports the military's mission."