GOP lawmakers say Biden hasn’t responded strongly enough to Iranian-backed attacks on US personnel at least 6 times last week in Iraq and Syria

Biden
President Joe Biden waves as he walks on the Ellipse after stepping off Marine One on May 17, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Iran-backed militias waged multiple attacks on US personnel in Iraq and Syria, Reuters reported.
  • In one of the at least six attacks, two US service members were injured.
  • “Iran-backed militias’ continued assault on US personnel in Iraq cannot be tolerated,” GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe told Politico.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republican lawmakers said President Joe Biden is not responding strongly enough after numerous attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed militias, Politico reported.

In the past week, at least six rocket and drone attacks targeted US troops and diplomats. On Wednesday, for example, two US service members were injured when at least 14 rockets hit an Iraqi airbase hosting US troops, Reuters reported.

Politico reported the exchanges this week are the latest in a long string of back and forth attacks between the US and Iranian-backed militias.

Biden has been working to be less involved in the region to focus on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and Republicans have been critical of the minimal approach.

“Iran-backed militias’ continued assault on US personnel in Iraq cannot be tolerated,” Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement to Politico. “President Biden must put forward a real strategy for deterring and ending these attacks, rather than continuing his bare-minimum, tit-for-tat approach that is failing to deter Iran or its militias and puts American lives at increased risk.”

Former United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, under former President Donald Trump, Mick Mulroy told Politico that “Iran needs to know they can’t hide behind their proxy forces.”

Read more: Photos show shirtless Democratic congressmen and their wives riding camels on a Qatar trip paid for by a special interest group

Biden did order airstrikes against Iran-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border late last month, as well as in February following attacks on US personnel, but faced backlash from progressives.

“I will be briefed on the imminent harm to our troops who the President has a duty to protect and why the Administration believed this was necessary for self-defense,” Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, told Insider’s John Haltiwanger last month. “What this shows, however, is the need for a broader strategy to bring our troops home so they are not at risk and to de-escalate the tensions with Iran.”

During a press conference, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby addressed the attacks on Thursday and said the US is evaluating a response.

“Obviously deeply concerned. We take the security and safety of our people overseas extremely seriously. And you’ve seen us retaliate appropriately when that safety and security has been threatened,” Kirby said.

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The war isn’t over: A UN official reveals how Russia is jeopardizing lives in northwest Syria

A human chain is formed by workers from the civil society, humanitarian aid, and medical and rescue services in a vigil calling for maintaining a UN resolution authorising the passage of humanitarian aid into Syria's rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, near Bab al-Hawa along the motorway linking it to the city of Idlib on July 2, 2021. - The UN resolution is set to expire on July 10 -- by which time the Security Council must have voted on its renewal, which is currently threatened by a veto from Russia on grounds that it violates Syria's sovereignty, in a bid to re-route aid through regime-controlled territory.
A human chain is formed by workers from the civil society, humanitarian aid, and medical and rescue services in a vigil calling for maintaining a UN resolution authorizing the passage of humanitarian aid into Syria’s rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, near Bab al-Hawa along the motorway linking it to the city of Idlib on July 2, 2021. – The UN resolution is set to expire on July 10 — by which time the Security Council must have voted on its renewal, which is currently threatened by a veto from Russia on grounds that it violates Syria’s sovereignty, in a bid to re-route aid through regime-controlled territory.

  • The rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib is home to some 3.4 million people, many of them displaced.
  • This part of northwestern Syria is under blockade and gets bombed by Russia and the Syrian regime.
  • There is only one internationally sanctioned border crossing for humanitarian aid.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A majority of the those who live in the last opposition-held sliver of northwestern Syria are internally displaced, having already fled Russian and regime bombing campaigns elsewhere. Their final refuge is controlled by extremist militants and blockaded, with Damascus and its allies continuing to rain missiles and artillery fire on what is essentially one large refugee camp.

The single internationally sanctioned gateway to the outside is Bab al-Hawa, where the United Nations transports aid to hundreds of thousands of people who depend it. But even that gateway is tenuous, with Russia threatening to veto an effort at the UN Security Council to renew the border crossing’s mandate, which expires July 10. Moscow maintains that, going forward, all aid should pass through the territory of its ally, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has previously denied such aid as a means of starving his opponents

Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told Insider what’s at stake.

Charles Davis: What is the humanitarian situation on the ground in northwest Syria? Isn’t the war over?

Mark Cutts: The violence continues daily. Hospitals have been badly damaged, aid convoys hit, and scores of people killed and injured, including children, disabled people, humanitarians, and medics. More than 2.7 million people are displaced by the conflict, where the humanitarian situation is at its most heartbreaking. Millions of people are pushed up against the border with Turkey. Poverty has gotten worse due to the conflict, an economic crisis and COVID-19. The number of people reliant on aid has increased by 20% to 3.4 million people. Prices of food staples rose by over 200% in the last year alone, while income sources and livelihoods have been eroded by the ongoing economic crisis. Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) for children increased by 55% in April 2021.

CD: How does aid currently get there and who supplies it?

MC: More than UN 1,000 trucks cross the border at Bab-al Hawa every month from our transport hub in Turkey.

CD: Isn’t this area controlled by extremist groups? Do they manage distribution of this aid?

MC: Since 2014, the UN has delivered 39,000 trucks of humanitarian aid through this corridor. Every single one of these trucks has been inspected by UN monitors. We also check the goods when they arrive at warehouses in Syria, and at distribution points, and we do post distribution monitoring. It is the most scrutinized aid distribution in the world.

CD: Russia has been saying aid could go through regime-controlled Syria. Why isn’t that acceptable?

MC: The scale of the needs in northwest Syria, where over 90% of the 3.4 million people in need are in extreme or catastrophic need – representing half of all Syrians at this level – is so great to require the massive response currently provided through the cross-border operation.

While we are hopeful that a cross-line mission will become possible, and even that they will become more regular, they are not currently able to replace cross-border deliveries. That would require safe, sustained, and unimpeded access for humanitarian operations, based on independent assessments of need.

CD: This isn’t the first time aid efforts have been threatened. In 2020, the UN was prevented from continuing to supply aid to northeast Syria. What has been the impact of that?

MC: The situation there has become more difficult since the closure of cross-border operations last year. An estimated 1.8 million people require assistance in areas of northeast Syria outside of the control of the government. More than 70% are in extreme need – well above the national average.

From Damascus, most agencies have regular access to northeast Syria for nonhealth items in cross-line operations. On health items, in 2020, the World Health Organization completed six road shipments to northeast Syria, in addition to 13 airlifts. However, as the Secretary-General has noted: “This represents a modest proportion of total needs, and many facilities remain short of staff, supplies and equipment. Overall, though, there is not enough aid of all sorts reaching northeast Syria.”

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Four journalists set up a refugee-led news outlet in Madrid after fleeing Syria

Three male journalists around a wooden table in front of a large window looking out toward an adjacent building in Spain.
Three journalists who set up shop in Madrid after fleeing Syria.

  • After fleeing war-torn Syria, four journalists founded Spain’s first refugee-led news site.
  • The journalists are Ayham al-Gareeb, Mohammad Shubat, Mousa al-Jamaat, and Okba Mohammad.
  • The site, called Baynana, publishes news in both Arabic and Spanish and aims to cater to the growing Arabic-speaking community in Spain.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Four journalists set up shop in Madrid after upending their lives and fleeing their homes in Syria due to war and other difficult conditions.

The journalists – Ayham al-Gareeb, Mohammad Shubat, Mousa al-Jamaat, and Okba Mohammad – were among a group of 11 rescued from dire conditions in Syria by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

At this time in Syria, the Middle Eastern country was wrapped up in the Daraa insurgency. The Syrian army and anti-government forces have long been engaged in a conflict that’s still ongoing today. The conflict has led to tension between the Syrian government and rebel forces, as well as hundreds of armed clashes.

In the midst of this conflict, the four men fled Syria and arrived in Madrid in May 2019. Two years later, they founded Baynana, Spain’s first refugee-led news site, according to the CPJ.

The site publishes news in both Arabic and Spanish, aiming “to provide useful information for the growing Arabic-speaking community in Spain and counter negative stereotypes surrounding migrants and refugees,” the CPJ said in a press release.

The journalists who started the news site credit and extend thanks to the CPJ.

“CPJ has helped us in so many ways,” said al-Gareeb, who serves as the site’s editor. “Firstly, they helped us to get out of war and relocate to a safe country like Spain. In my case, they also helped my wife and daughters to get here.”

“CPJ also helped us to start Baynana and that will help us to continue to work in journalism, something we love,” al-Gareeb added.

They started Baynana with the help of porCausa, a Spanish foundation dedicated to the advancement of investigative journalism and migration-related news, the CPJ said.

“The launching of Baynana is one of the most exciting developments in the Spanish media landscape in recent years,” CPJ program director Carlos Martinez said in the press release. “It will consistently bring other voices and perspectives to the conversation on key topics and issues, and will enrich the overall journalism community.”

Insider is covering this news as part of The One Free Press Coalition, which raises awareness of the world’s persecuted journalists.

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US carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups

Pentagon
Aerial view of the Pentagon

  • The US carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria early Monday morning.
  • The Pentagon said the targets were used by Iran-backed militia groups that were conducting attacks on US facilities in Iraq.
  • The US aimed “to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Pentagon carried out airstrikes Monday morning in Iraq and Syria on facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Sunday.

“At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” he said in a statement.

Kirby said the targets were selected because they were used by Iran-backed militia groups that are conducting drone attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq. The groups included Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel. 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,” Kirby said.

Read more: Meet 7 BidenWorld longtime consiglieres and a couple relative newcomers who have access to exclusive White House meetings

“We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to defeat ISIS. 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,” he continued.

The airstrikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at three locations, two in Syria and one in Iraq, all near the border between the two countries.

It was not the first time the US launched airstrikes in the region under President Joe Biden. In February, Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria against assets of Iran-backed militia groups after militants fired rockets at an Iraqi airbase used by the US military. The militia groups were the same ones targeted on Monday.

Several militant groups in Iraq and Syria are supported by the Iranian government, which has struggled with years of economic sanctions. Biden has sought to engage Iran in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal that the US withdrew from under former President Donald Trump.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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The US military likely killed 23 civilians in 2020, according to a new report from the Defense Department

GettyImages 1232600143
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – APRIL 29: A Black Hawk helicopter of the US Air Force is pictured in front of the cityscape on April 29, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

  • The Defense Department said 23 civilians were likely killed and 10 injured by the US military in 2020.
  • The finding came in a report on US operations in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq.
  • Independent observers said the actual toll is likely much higher.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US military killed at least 23 civilians in 2020, according to a new report from the Department of Defense, a steep decline from previous years as offensive operations were significantly reduced during the pandemic. Another 10 civilians were likely injured, the department said.

In 2017, by contrast, the US military said it had killed nearly 500 civilians.

But independent observers said the actual number of civilian casualties is once again likely far higher than the US is willing to admit. The monitoring group Airwars, for example, estimates that a minimum of 102 civilians were killed by US operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Chris Woods, director of the group, said he welcomed the report, which is mandated by Congress and released annually.

“We remain concerned, however, that DoD estimates of civilian harm once again fall well below credible public estimates, and call on officials to review why such undercounts remain so common,” Woods said in a statement. “Civilians surely deserve better.”

The report itself, which the department releases annually, acknowledges that there are many more claims of innocent people killed than the military itself deems credible.

In Afghanistan, according to the report, the US military received 165 reports of civilian casualties related to operations in 2020. Of those, seven were deemed legitimate, resulting in approximately 20 civilian deaths and five injuries.

Airwars, by contrast, estimates that at least 89 civilians were killed and another 31 injured.

It often takes years for the US to admit civilian casualties occurred.

In November 2020, a spokesperson for US Central Command told Insider that an internal review found two civilians had indeed been injured from an airstrike in Yemen that took place some three years earlier.

In Somalia, the US also admitted last year to killing two civilians in a February 2019 airstrike after insisting for months that the victims were “terrorists.”

The latest report itself notes that an additional 65 civilians were killed between 2017 and 2019, with another 22 injured, beyond the numbers previously reported.

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, accused the Biden administration of obscuring the full toll of US military operations.

“The grossly inadequate official accounting for the costs and consequences of the United States’ lethal actions abroad prevents meaningful public oversight and accountability for wrongful deaths and perpetual war policies,” Shamsi said. “Civilian victims, their families, and the American public deserve far better than this.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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US troops in Syria seem to be getting hit with directed-energy attacks, and the Pentagon suspects Russia is doing it, report says

Army soldiers Syria Bradley fighting vehicle
US soldiers in Syria.

  • There have been suspected directed-energy attacks on US troops, Politico reported.
  • The Defense Department has reportedly been investigating suspected attacks since last year.
  • Troops appeared to be mysteriously falling ill in Syria, and the Pentagon suspects Russia.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US is investigating what appears to be directed-energy attacks on US troops, and the Pentagon suspects Russia is behind them, Politico reported.

Four national-security officials involved in the investigation told Politico that the Department of Defense has been investigating the incidents of suspected attacks since last year.

Two sources told Politico that this included incidents in Syria, where troops developed flu-like symptoms last fall.

Politico also reported that the Defense Department has briefed lawmakers on intelligence about the suspected attacks.

But a Pentagon spokesperson told Politico that the Defense Department wasn’t aware of directed-energy attacks against troops in Syria.

Directed-energy attacks involve directing energy towards a particular target, and could involve methods like lasers. It can involve directing microwave energy towards people, which harms people’s health.

US officials in Cuba, China, and Russia have previously become mysteriously sick, and studies have pointed to microwave radiation as the main suspect.

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Mass killing in Myanmar has ‘clear echoes of Syria,’ UN human rights commissioner warns. The parallels are eerie.

GettyImages 1300793798
A protester makes a three-finger salute as others march on February 07, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar.

  • Myanmar has “clear echoes of Syria in 2011,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday.
  • The military in Myanmar overthrow the democratically elected government in February.
  • It has killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the weeks since.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Myanmar is on the verge of a “full-blown conflict,” a top United Nations official warned Tuesday, urging the world community not to repeat the passive observation that allowed the conflict in Syria to grow into the bloodiest of the 21st century.

“There are clear echoes of Syria in 2011,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.

“There too we saw peaceful protests met with unnecessary and clearly disproportionate force,” said Bachelet, a former president of Chile, noting that the absence of an international response led the repression to both persist and grow worse, leading to “some individuals taking up arms, followed by a downward and rapidly expanding spiral of violence.”

In February, Myanmar’s long-dominant military overthrew the country’s tenuous democracy, making false claims of voter fraud to evict de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party from power. In the weeks since, the military has repeatedly opened fire on protesters, killing over 700 people, including 82 in one city last Friday.

In March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was “deeply concerned” by the violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

“We, of course, continue to work with our allies and partners and like-minded institutions as we condemn the actions of the military, call for the immediate restoration of democracy, and hold those who seize power accountable,” Psaki said.

But in her remarks Tuesday, Bachelet said the world was not doing nearly enough to actually stop the bloodshed.

“Statements of condemnation, and limited targeted sanctions, are clearly not enough,” she said. “States with influence need to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military in Myanmar to halt the commission of grave human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity.”

Myanmar’s envoy to the UN, appointed by the last democratically elected government, has urged the international community to impose an arms embargo on the country as well as a no-fly zone, which would entail forcing the military junta’s aircraft out of the skies.

While much attention has been focused on the military’s response to pro-democracy rallies, it has also been launching airstrikes against armed groups in Karen state, along the border with Thailand. Locals have claimed the strikes have exacted a civilian toll, causing thousands to flee and prompting fears of an all-out civil war.

Syria 2.0?

The parallels to Syria are glaring. In early 2011, thousands of people inspired by the Arab Spring took to the streets to demand reform in an authoritarian dictatorship led by Bashar al-Assad. The crackdown was swift and brutal: snipers took shots at activists, thousands of whom disappeared in torture chambers (the UN would later declare the government guilty of “extermination”).

At first, Western leaders offered only tepid criticism. “What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [and] police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”

Many members of Congress, she added, believe Assad is a “reformer.” Indeed, the US had collaborated with Assad’s government during the War on Terror, the Bush administration sent detainees there who were later tortured. (The US, likewise, helped train Myanmar’s military, suspending that assistance in 2017 amid the Rohingya genocide.) And the Obama administration had recently reopened the US embassy in Damascus, hoping to see a formal peace agreement between Israel and Assad’s government.

It would take months more for President Barack Obama to demand Assad step down – time that allowed massacres to continue and armed groups, including extremists, to fill the vacuum left by the seeming indifference of the world’s democracies.

Assad would go on to bomb most of the country’s cities to rubble, while using chemical weapons to kill civilians who defied his regime, according to reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That – a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, with millions forced to become refugees – is a future Bachelet hopes to stave off.

“The military seems intent on intensifying its pitiless policy of violence against the people of Myanmar, using military-grade and indiscriminate weaponry,” she observed.

But it is not just the US and its allies that she called out. At the UN, Russia and China, as with Syria before, have blocked the UN from even condemning the coup in Myanmar.

“The UN High Commissioner has sounded the alarm bell,” Sherine Tadros, deputy director of advocacy at Amnesty International, told Insider. “It’s now up to members of the Security Council to act and impose a comprehensive, global arms embargo and targeted sanctions on senior officials before the situation worsens further.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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There are no victories left to win for US troops in Iraq and Syria. It’s time for Biden to bring them home.

Army soldiers Syria Bradley fighting vehicle
US soldiers walk to an oil production facility to meet with its management team, in Syria, October 27,2020.

  • The US still has 3,500 troops in Iraq and several hundred more in Syria.
  • Any benefit the US may get from those deployments is dwarfed by the risks of keeping them there.
  • Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and former US Army lieutenant colonel.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The United States will engage in a “strategic dialogue” with Iraq this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week. The key agenda item, she explained, was the US combat deployment there.

How or whether to extend the operation should not be part of the discussion. Nailing down details of the withdrawal should.

The 3,500 US troops currently in Iraq serve no purpose related to American national security. They don’t have a militarily attainable mission which could be recognized and signal the end of the deployment. The only benefactor is the government in Baghdad and even they are ready to show America the exit.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told reporters in Iraq he is approaching April’s dialogue with Washington as a chance to push for the withdrawal of American troops. He cited what he considered a positive outcome from the June 2020 strategic dialogue with the US in which Iraq “succeeded in reducing the size of the US combat forces in Iraq by 60%.”

In this upcoming meeting, al-Kadhimi added, he will seek the complete “redeployment of [US] forces outside of Iraq.” The administration, however, appeared interested in cooling such talk.

Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Iraq
A US Army crew chief looks over the Tigris River from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq, March 3, 2021.

At the recent press briefing, Psaki sought to “further clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute.” If the troops are not officially engaged in direct combat, some believe, the deployment will be more palatable to the American people.

There is little evidence the US population cares about the nuance, however. Upward of 75% want the troops to return home. Such views are well-founded, as the troops no longer provide even nominal support for US security interests.

The reason troops are in Iraq at all today is because President Barack Obama sent them to help Baghdad fend off the rise of ISIS in the summer of 2014.

When President Donald Trump assumed office, he beefed up the military presence and gave them the mission of helping the Iraqi military (and later Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria) retake the territory ISIS had captured. That mission was completed in Iraq in November 2017 and in Syria in March 2019.

Today ISIS has been driven underground, as is the case with numerous other violent insurgent groups in the Middle East. Though ISIS poses a potential terror threat – as literally scores of other radical groups do – the threat they pose is limited and in any case is not diminished by having a few thousand troops on the ground in either Iraq or Syria.

Lt. Gen. Paul Calvert, commander of the US-led counter-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria, told Defense One that ISIS’s “ability to reemerge is extremely low right now.”

What does concern Calvert, however, are the volatile cultural and political conditions in both countries. “It’s clear to me and people that I’ve talked to [in Iraqi government],” Calvert said, “there’s a significant amount of concern in terms of the possibilities of an internal Shia civil war.” Things in Syria are even worse.

Army soldier M2 Bradley fighting vehicle Syria
A US soldier next to an M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle in northeastern Syria, December 16, 2020.

Aside from the ongoing civil war, operating within Syria are Iranian troops fighting alongside Syrian troops, Russian Air Force bombers striking anti-Syrian targets, Russian mercenaries, Shia militias, Kurdish elements Turkey considers terrorists, and Kurdish groups the US considers allies.

American troops have sometimes narrowly avoided armed clashes with Russian combat troops, Syrian troops, and even its NATO-ally Turkey. In somewhat of an understatement, Calvert said the “level of complexity in Syria is immense and is probably one of the most complex environments I have seen in the 33 years that I’ve been serving.”

Whatever incremental security benefit may exist with US troops being deployed in Iraq and Syria, they are dwarfed by the strategic risk we incur every minute we remain on the ground there.

We are in a sea of civil conflict in Syria and in danger of semi-regular rocket attacks in Iraq. Our military presence cannot influence the political outcome in either country.

The best thing Biden can do for the security of the United States and to preserve the lives of our service members from unnecessary risk at the security dialogue with Baghdad is to withdraw our troops, in full, from both Iraq and Syria as soon as possible.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

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Biden supports Congress scrapping post-9/11 laws that led to ‘forever wars’

Joe Biden
Then-Vice President Joe Biden meets with U.S. troops in Maidan Wardak province January 11, 2011.

  • Biden to work with Congress to repeal post-9/11 laws that gave presidents a blank check to wage war.
  • The White House said they aim to replace the laws with a “narrow” framework that protects the US.
  • There’s been growing bipartisan support in Congress to rein in presidential war powers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden intends to work with congressional lawmakers to repeal laws passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks that effectively gave every commander-in-chief since a blank check to wage war, the White House said on Friday, per Politico.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement said Biden wants to “ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”

The authorizations for use of military force (AUMF) on the table for repeal include the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF. 

The 2001 AUMF was passed only days after 9/11 with overwhelming support in Congress – there was only one dissenting vote. It authorized the president “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, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump interpreted this law broadly to conduct military actions across the globe. The 2001 AUMF – the linchpin of the global war on terror – has been used to justify at least 41 military operations in 19 countries. It opened the door for the invasion of Afghanistan, launching the longest war in US history – which has lasted for nearly two decades.

The 2002 AUMF, which was approved in October 2002, paved the way for the US invasion of Iraq. Trump cited the 2002 AUMF to justify a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, a strike that brought the countries to the brink of war. 

The law authorized the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to – (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”

Biden voted in favor of both laws as a senator, later stating it was a mistake to support the Iraq invasion.

During the Trump era, there were growing bipartisan calls for presidential war powers to be reined in. Many in Congress felt they’d abdicated their constitutional role in declaring war via laws such as the military authorizations passed after 9/11.

These sentiments have carried on into the Biden era, with a bipartisan group of senators unveiling a bill earlier this week to repeal the 2002 AUMF as well as a 1991 authorization prior to the first Iraq war (Gulf War). The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, was introduced less than a week after Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria targeting Iran-backed militias. 

Kaine and other lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern about Biden’s Syria strikes, questioning their legality. The Biden administration did not lean on the 2001 or 2002 AUMF in defense of the action. It justified the strikes based on Article II of the Constitution, which designates the president as commander-in-chief of the military, and principles of self-defense under international law. But lawmakers have still expressed anger that congressional approval was not sought prior to the strikes. 

The Biden administration would work closely with lawmakers like Kaine in terms of the effort to repeal the post-9/11 military authorizations. 

“Tim Kaine has been a leader on questions of war powers throughout his time in the Senate,” Psaki said in her statement, via Politico, “and has helped build a strong bipartisan coalition that understands the importance of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.”

A spokesperson for Kaine told Politico the senator “believes that President Biden, who has a deep understanding of both congressional and executive responsibilities, is in a unique position to help America restore balance in how we make decisions about war and peace.” The spokesperson said Kaine is already “in bipartisan discussion with his colleagues and the administration.”

America’s global war on terror has killed over 800,000 people in direct war violence, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project, and the US government places the cost of the vast, convoluted conflict at over $6.4 trillion. The war, which will officially enter its 20th year in October, has also displaced at least 37 million people. Repealing laws like the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF could help bring an end to the war on terror, or at least drastically limit the scope of US counterterrorism operations.

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Biden defends airstrike on Syria in letter to leaders in Congress and says US has the right to defend itself

Joe Biden lights
Joe Biden at the Lincoln Memorial on January 19, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden justified airstrikes in Syria in a letter to congressional lawmakers. 
  • Biden said he directed the airstrikes in response to a recent militant strike in Iraq. 
  • He said the US “always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden justified his decision to strike Syria in a letter to congressional leadership on Saturday. 

On Thursday night, Biden directed airstrikes against the assets of “Iranian-backed militant groups” in Syria. 

In his letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President pro tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy, Biden said the strike was “pursuant to the United States’ inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”

The Pentagon said the move came after a series of recent attacks against US and coalition forces in Iraq. Last week, a contractor was killed and others were injured after militants fired rockets at an Iraqi airbase used by the US military.

Biden referenced the attack to justify the strike. 

“In response, I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks,” he wrote. “The United States always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, including when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory by non-state militia groups responsible for such attacks. 

Biden also said he was providing the report as part of his “efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” which says presidents have 48 hours after taking military action to inform Congress. 

Biden faced criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, many of whom questioned his authority to launch the strikes. 

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, tweeted: “We ran on ending wars, not escalating conflicts in the Middle East. Our foreign policy needs to be rooted in diplomacy & the rule of law, not retaliatory air strikes without Congressional authorization.”

Members of Congress have previously pushed to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs), which were enacted after 9/11 and gave presidents the authority to wage war around the world, Insider’s John Haltiwanger and Ryan Pickrell previously reported.

 

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