Defense official says U.S. has authority to target terrorists anywhere

By on May 22, 2013

A senior Pentagon official told a Senate committee Thursday that the U.S. would be at war with Al Qaeda for 15 to 20 more years and said the military could target terrorists anywhere under a law passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of Defense in charge of special operations, said America’s battle with terrorist groups spanned the globe “from Boston to the FATA,” meaning Pakistan’s tribal areas.

He did not explain why he believes the effort could last another generation. During his State of the Union address in February, President Obama called Al Qaeda “a shadow of its former self.”

Sheehan and the Pentagon’s top lawyers told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military was authorized to target Al Qaeda operatives in countries where drone strikes don’t now occur, including Mali, Syria and anywhere a host government is “unwilling or unable” to prevent Al Qaeda-linked terrorists from operating on its territory.

That expansive view drew sharp criticism from some senators, who questioned how a 2001 law that authorized use of force against the organizers of that year’s Sept. 11 attacks is now used to authorize drone strikes against militants in Somalia and Yemen who played no role in those events.

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