Nearly 12 years since 9/11, the United States remains in a state of armed conflict and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force continues to provide the principal legal framework for military and detention operations against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces.
The law has given both the Bush and Obama administrations the authority to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons" responsible for the September 11 attacks, in order to prevent any future terror plots against America. As a result, Al Qaeda and the Taliban were removed from power in Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden and many of his top lieutenants were killed in Pakistan; and there have been no terror attacks of the 9/11 magnitude on American soil.
Despite these gains, however, Al Qaeda remains a viable threat. Over the past years, the terror group has metastasized and spread across the Middle East, forming Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Al Qaeda-affiliated groups have also exploited regional instability in the aftermath of the Arab Spring to gain a foothold in Syria, Libya and Egypt's Sinai. Moreover, some regional radical groups have become co-belligerents with Al Qaeda in the fight against the West, including Somalia-based Al-Shabaab and Nigeria's Boko Haram.
It is therefore premature and dangerous to repeal or significantly restrict the AUMF at this point, since it would undercut the effectiveness of US counterterrorism efforts to deal with Al Qaeda-related emerging threats worldwide. Suggestions to incorporate temporal and geographical limitations into the AUMF are also ill-advised. Confining the law to a specific number of countries or terrorist groups would give the enemy more freedom of action and allow it to create new fronts and sanctuaries in areas immune from US counterterrorism operations.
In his counterterrorism policy speech three weeks ago, President Obama promised to continue a "series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." In the absence of the AUMF, such actions would become untenable and devoid of a legal basis.
At present, the AUMF provides the administration with adequate authorities to pursue the war. Until Al Qaeda and associated forces are degraded to a level where they pose no substantial national security threat to the United States, the law should not be repealed or replaced.