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UPDATED: Obama seeks approval for forces against ISIS

This is an expanded version of the article posted Feb. 11.

WASHINGTON (BP) — President Obama’s request for congressional authorization for limited use of American armed forces to defeat an Islamic terrorist army came as new reports pulled the curtain back further on the horrifying magnitude of the atrocities in Iraq and Syria.

Southern Baptist ethicists, meanwhile, described military action as justified to thwart the terrorists’ widespread campaign against Christians, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic minorities, as well as moderate Muslims.

The president sent Congress Wednesday (Feb. 11) a proposed resolution to authorize the use of the United States military to thwart a push by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to establish a militant Muslim regime in the Middle East. ISIS also has threatened attacks on the United States. The Sunni Muslim terrorists that largely make up ISIS, also known as ISIL, have executed, driven from their homes, abducted, tortured, enslaved or forced into marriages hundreds of thousands of people.

Recent reports or testimony about the ISIS campaign of terror showed:

— Minorities in Iraq are on “the edge of extinction” as a result of ISIS’ religious and ethnic cleansing, according to a Feb. 11 report by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a new Christian human rights organization.

— Minority children are being systematically killed and sexually exploited and enslaved by ISIS, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child reported Feb. 4.

— About 20,000 foreign fighters from around the world have joined ISIS and its allies in Iraq and Syria, according to Feb. 11 congressional testimony by Nick Rasmussen, head of the federal government’s National Counterterrorism Center, the Associated Press reported.

Matthew Arbo, a Southern Baptist ethicist, pointed to the plight of the victims of ISIS as a basis for authorizing the involvement of American armed forces.

“To the extent that one of our rationales is intervening on behalf of (moderate) Iraqis and other ethnic minorities, then military action would be justified, provided, that is, some reasonable scope is applied to execution of the war plan,” said Arbo, assistant professor of theological studies at Oklahoma Baptist University and a Christian ethics fellow with the Research Institute of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

The president’s proposal “was a necessary step in the right direction,” Arbo told Baptist Press in written comments.

If Congress authorizes military action, Christians should hold the Obama administration to these rules in war — “discrimination and proportion,” he said.

“All attacks must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, and weaponry should be used as proportionately as possible,” Arbo said. “Then, in the future, when campaigns are closing, we should keep fully to the rules after war and help rebuild the nations impacted.”

Russell Moore, the ERLC’s president, continued to stand by an open letter he signed in August after Obama authorized without congressional approval military airstrikes against ISIS. The letter — initiated by Robert George, professor at Princeton University and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom — commended the president’s authorization of airstrikes but contended the United States and other countries should do more to protect minorities from ISIS.

George, Moore and the other signers called for the United States to increase airstrikes against ISIS. They also urged the American government to supply air support, as well as weapons and intelligence, for those fighting the Islamic militants.

“No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table,” George, Moore and others said in the letter. “We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.”

Obama’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) enables him to use American forces as he deems necessary against ISIS “or associated persons or forces” but does not permit “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” The authorization concludes after three years unless it is reauthorized. It requires the president to provide a report to Congress at least each six months on actions taken under the authorization.

In a letter that accompanied the draft authorization, Obama said the proposal “would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations” like those in Iraq and Afghanistan in the previous decade. While local forces should be the ones involved in such actions, his proposal would empower U.S. ground efforts in “more limited circumstances.” Among examples of such occasions the president cited were rescue operations, the use of special ops forces against ISIS leaders and the collection of intelligence.

The new AUMF would rescind the 2002 resolution that authorized military action against Iraq.

Members of both parties quickly signaled the president’s draft authorization has its skeptics in Congress. Republican leaders promised thorough hearings regarding the president’s request and expressed concerns it might be too restrictive on leaders of the military effort.

“Any authorization for the use of military force must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said in a written statement. “While I believe an AUMF against [ISIS] is important, I have concerns that the president’s request does not meet this standard.”

Many Democrats voiced fear Obama’s draft could lead to expanded ground action for the U.S. military, The Washington Post reported.

The president’s authorization request followed by a day the confirmation of the death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller, at least the fifth United States citizen to be killed while in ISIS’ custody.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child reported the following atrocities among its concerns regarding children affected by ISIS’ terrorism:

— The killing of minority children, including “several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixion of children and burying children alive;”

— The abduction of many children, who have witnessed the murder of their parents and become victims of sexual and physical assault;

— The “sexual enslavement” of children, especially from minorities, that includes “markets” in which ISIS puts price tags on children and women for sale and temporary prisons in which children are sex slaves.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R.-Texas, chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, greeted Feb. 11 the report of the 20,000-person influx into Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIS the “largest convergence of Islamist terrorists in world history.” The flow of foreign fighters in and out of the Middle East has raised concerns about a global increase in terrorist acts.

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