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.

Earlier this year 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. 

US Counterterrorism Operations 2018-2020
US Counterterrorism Operations 2018-2020 by Brown University Watson Institute

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.

Read the report here.