The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Darcey Rakestraw,

Analysis of 2001 AUMF Shows Lack of Oversight of U.S. Counterterrorism Operations

New Analysis Shows Some Counterterrorism Activities Have Not Been Reported to Congress


A new analysis of where the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) has been used to justify U.S. counterterrorism activities reveals a lack of transparency over how the AUMF is used, including what operations are actually happening in countries where the AUMF is cited. Other legal justifications used in counterterrorism operations similarly lack transparency and oversight. The analysis is based on newly updated Congressional Research Service data through August 6, 2021. The findings were reported today in Spencer Ackerman's Forever Wars.

"In light of our previous research showing how widespread U.S. counterterrorism activities are globally, this analysis shows where the 2001 AUMF has been used and when and where counterterrorism operations have happened outside the umbrella of the AUMF," said Stephanie Savell, Co-Director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute and author of the analysis. "There are several cases of combat and airstrikes since 2001 that various presidents have not reported to Congress."

Costs of War produced a map showing that between 2018-2020, the U.S. undertook what it labeled "counterterrorism" operations in 85 countries. Of those operations, presidents must report on situations where U.S. troops are involved in "hostilities" or "imminent hostilities." The new analysis shows the AUMF has been cited to justify counterterrorism operations in 22 countries. Moreover, it is not the only legal authority under which counterterrorism operations are being carried out.

Much of the executive branch's reporting lacks geographic specificity, so the 2001 AUMF has sometimes been used to justify operations in regions rather than countries. This being the case, the analysis describes at least two countries - Mali and Tunisia - where there has been clear evidence of hostilities but which do not appear in executive branch 2001 AUMF citations.

The analysis also found:

  • The executive branch has consistently used vague language to describe the locations of operations, failed to accurately describe the full scope of activities in many places, and in some cases simply failed to report on counterterrorism hostilities.
  • Executive branch reporting to Congress in reference to the 2001 AUMF fails to specify the number of operations conducted in each of the 22 countries involved. In many locations of U.S. military activities, the executive branch has inadequately described the full scope of U.S. actions.
  • In other cases, the executive branch has reported on "support for CT operations," but has not acknowledged that troops were or could be involved in direct combat with militants, as in Niger in 2017, when four U.S. service members were killed in an ambush as they attempted to carry out a raid on a militant compound (the AUMF was cited only after this incident came to light).

"There are a large number of U.S. counterterrorism operations, occurring under different legal umbrellas, which makes it difficult to track these activities and assure that there is adequate Congressional oversight," said Savell.

The Costs of War Project is a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians, which began its work in 2010. We use research and a public website to facilitate debate about the costs of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related violence in Pakistan and Syria. There are many hidden or unacknowledged costs of the United States' decision to respond to the 9/11 attacks with military force. We aim to foster democratic discussion of these wars by providing the fullest possible account of their human, economic, and political costs, and to foster better informed public policies.