In a report required by the War Powers Resolution, President Obama for the first time acknowledged that the US has taken “direct action” in Somalia and Yemen to attack remnants of Al Qaeda, spreading the battlefield authorized by the AUMF passed shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
In the letter, the President updates Congress on US deployments in the fight against Al Qaeda. Here’s the key section:
In Somalia, the U.S. military has worked to counter the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida and al-Qa’ida-associated elements of al-Shabaab. In a limited number of cases, the U.S. military has taken direct action in Somalia against members of al-Qa’ida, including those who are also members of al-Shabaab, who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and our interests.
The U.S. military has also been working closely with the Yemeni government to operationally dismantle and ultimately eliminate the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active and dangerous affiliate of al-Qa’ida today. Our joint efforts have resulted in direct action against a limited number of AQAP operatives and senior leaders in that country who posed a terrorist threat to the United States and our interests.
Everyone knows that the US is engaged in these practices, but this is the first time it has been admitted in a formal setting. And practically speaking, the letter acknowledges the drone program. After all, there’s no “direct action” in the sense of a military deployment in Somalia and Yemen. So that leaves only covert operations like drone strikes. The government also acknowledged a hostage rescue operation in January 2012 in Somalia that resulted in the recovery of Jessica Buchanan from Somali pirates.
The letter also says that there are currently 90,000 troops in Afghanistan. By the end of summer, the Administration has committed to drop that number to 68,000, and “reductions will continue at a steady pace” after that, according to the letter.
The US has 2,748 prisoners in Afghanistan currently. Within the next six months those prisoners are to be transferred to the Afghans, per an agreement with the Karzai government. The letter states that the US holds 169 detainees in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In addition to Somalia and Yemen, the report highlights other US deployments around the world. The military has 90 combat-equipped personnel in Uganda, advising in the effort to bring Joseph Kony and other members of the Lord’s Resistance Army into captivity. “These forces, however, will not engage LRA forces except in self-defense,” according to the letter. There are 693 troops in Egypt, left over from a multinational force that has been there since 1981. And there are 817 troops in Kosovo, as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force that has been in effect since 1999. Thankfully, this piece is also included:
The United States completed its responsible withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in December 2011, in accordance with the 2008 Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq on the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq.
This unclassified version of the War Powers Report comes with a more classified version, which apparently has more details on the “direct actions” against Somalia and Yemen.
I suppose it’s nice to know now that, while we’ve subtracted one country from our warmaking menu, we’ve now officially acknowledged the addition of two other countries. Steven Aftergood, echoing other advocates for transparency, acknowledged the small step forward here, saying, “The age of secret wars is over. They were never a secret to those on the receiving end.”