The AUMF Will Soon Extend to Syria (If It Doesn't Already)

By Jack Goldsmith
Saturday, March 23, 2013, 10:15 AM

The WSJ has a story (behind paywall, I think) about the CIA “expanding its role in the campaign against the Syrian regime by feeding intelligence to select rebel fighters to use against government forces.”  The point of the CIA aid is to “stem the rise of Islamist extremists in Syria by aiding secular forces,” and in particular the extremist group is the al Nusra Front (which I have discussed here and here).

The CIA’s expanding role in Syria is interesting enough, but here is what caught my eye in the story:  “The move comes as the al Nusra Front, the main al Qaeda-linked group operating in Syria, is deepening its ties to the terrorist organization’s central leadership in Pakistan, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials” (my emphasis).  Moreover:

U.S. counterterrorism officials said they have seen a growth in communications among operatives from al Nusra Front, al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda's central leadership in Pakistan. Officials also report growing numbers of al Qaeda fighters traveling from Pakistan to Syria to join the fight with al Nusra.

The ties to al Qaeda's central operations have become so significant that U.S. counterterrorism officials are debating whether al Nusra should now be considered its own al Qaeda affiliate instead of an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, as it has generally been viewed within the U.S. government, according to a person familiar with the debate.

In short, al Nusra Front is on the road to becoming – if it has not already become – a terrorist group associated with al Qaeda that falls within the AUMF, and thus against which Congress has authorized the president to use military force.  That is significant enough by itself, but all the more so because (as the WSJ also reports) “U.S. and European officials said they fear that the al Nusra Front, which has seized control of swaths of northern Syria, could dominate the country once Mr. Assad falls.”