As is now familiar to everyone, rather difficult questions arise when we discuss the scope of the AUMF, the current scope of “al Qaeda,” the meaning of “associated forces,” and the circumstances under which the president may have inherent authority to use force in national self-defense against extra-AUMF threats. Under those general headings, today’s Pentagon press briefing included some interesting (though I do not think novel) statements about al Qaeda’s presence in various locations, including some discussion about whether it is important to link AQIM specifically to a threat targeting the US homeland. I thought I’d share the highlights:
… MR. LITTLE: The secretary has been very clear for a long time, since he was CIA director, that we have to go after A.Q. wherever they are, to include in South Asia, to include in other parts of Africa, and to include North Africa — places like Yemen, as well.
We are taking the fight in various ways to al Qaeda, and we’ve been doing so very effectively for a number of years now.
AQIM poses a threat in the region, and I can’t rule out the possibility that AQIM poses a threat to U.S. interests. This is a group that has shown its ability to demonstrate brutality and to conduct attacks. And it’s very important that we work with our partners in the region and our allies to thwart them.
And that’s why we’re applauding the French effort.
Q: Do you see an AQIM threat to the U.S. homeland?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I’m unaware of any specific or credible information at this time that points to an AQIM threat against the homeland, but, again, I’m not ruling it out. We take al Qaeda wherever they are very seriously. And we are not going to rest on our laurels until we find that that kind of specific and credible information. At that point it could be too late.
Q: Do you believe, does the secretary believe that A.Q. in the Af-Pak [Afghanistan-Pakistan] area, the threat from A.Q. in Af-Pak area has moved now to the A.Q. in Middle East and northern Africa? Which was the more threat to the U.S.?
MR. LITTLE: I think A.Q. in Afghanistan and Pakistan, A.Q. in Yemen, A.Q. in various parts of Africa, they all pose a very serious threat to the United States. We view all of these groups as a priority in terms of our going after them. So I wouldn’t rank order the various nodes of A.Q.
Let me be very clear that various nodes of A.Q. have come under very strong pressure in recent years in Pakistan and in Yemen and in Somalia, and we’re seeing pressure brought to bear against AQIM and other groups in North Africa.
We intend with our allies and in the context of international effort to sustain that sustain that pressure.
Q: And — (inaudible) — complication and leadership exchange between A.Q. in Af-Pak and Yemen and northern Africa?
MR. LITTLE: I wouldn’t comment on that kind of thing. It might — coordination we’ll — we have seen this kind of coordination in the past. I’m not going to get into specifics. But that is a concern of ours. And that’s another reason why we need to keep up the pressure.