By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Any congressional authorization of U.S. military force against Islamic State should be flexible and not limit the fight to Iraq and Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday.
The authorization should also not restrict U.S. President Barack Obama in deploying combat troops against the militant group if needed, Kerry told a Senate committee debating the need for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF.
The Obama administration has argued that its current campaign of air strikes against Islamic State is legal, based on authorization passed in the early 2000s for the campaigns against al Qaeda and associated groups and the Iraq War during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Kerry said, however, the administration supported updating the authorizations to cover the campaign against Islamic State.
"We do not think an AUMF should include a geographic limitation," Kerry said, "We don't anticipate conducting operations in countries other than Iraq and Syria, but to the extent that ISIL poses a threat to American interests and personnel in other countries, we would not want an AUMF to constrain our ability to use appropriate force against ISIL in those locations if necessary.
"In our view, it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside Iraq or Syria," Kerry added.
While Obama has said the United States would not send U.S. combat troops into the fight against Islamic State, Kerry said any war powers granted by Congress should not "preemptively bind the hands of the commander in chief or our commanders in the field.
"The president has been crystal clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL; that will be the responsibility of local forces," Kerry said.
Kerry has cautioned that while a U.S.-led coalition was starting to inflict damage on Islamic State, carrying out around 1,050 air strikes in Iraq and Syria, the fight could take years.
He said the administration supported a proposal by Senator Robert Menendez to grant new war powers for a period of three years to avoid an open-ended authorization.
"We support that proposal subject to a provision we should work through together that provides for an extension in the event that circumstances require it, and we think it should be advertised up front," Kerry added.
Kerry said it was important that the new authorization had bipartisan support "that makes clear this is not one party's fight."
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Dan Grebler)