But The President Says We’re Not Engaged In Hostilities In Libya

Two short news items that seem to stand in contradiction to the Obama Administration’s legal justification for why the War Powers Act doesn’t apply to our mission in Libya.

First, the Pentagon has decided that the troops serving in the area, most of whom are apparently on board ship, are entitled to extra pay:

The Defense Department decided in April to pay an extra $225 a month in “imminent danger pay” to service members who fly planes over Libya or serve on ships within 110 nautical miles of its shores.

That means the Pentagon has decided that troops in those places are “subject to the threat of physical harm or imminent danger because of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions.” There are no U.S. ground troops in Libya.

Second, the New York Times reports that American involvement in the war has not been limited to support and unmanned drones after all:

WASHINGTON — Since the United States handed control of the air war in Libya to NATO in early April, American warplanes have struck at Libyan air defenses about 60 times, and remotely operated drones have fired missiles at Libyan forces about 30 times, according to military officials.

The most recent strike from a piloted United States aircraft was on Saturday, and the most recent strike from an American drone was on Wednesday, the officials said.

While the Obama administration has regularly acknowledged that American forces have continued to take part in some of the strike sorties, few details about their scope and frequency have been made public.

The unclassified portion of material about Libya that the White House sent to Congress last week, for example, said “American strikes are limited to the suppression of enemy air defense and occasional strikes by unmanned Predator” drones, but included no numbers for such strikes.

The disclosure of such details could add texture to an unfolding debate about the merits of the Obama administration’s legal argument that it does not need Congressional authorization to continue the mission because United States forces are not engaged in “hostilities” within the meaning of the War Powers Resolution.

It is worthwhile, once again, to reference the relevant section of the War Powers Act, which states that it is applicable when American military force is introduced:

(1) into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances;

(2) into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat, except for deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces; or

(3) in numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation;

The Pentagon thinks that the situation in Libya is dangerous enough to qualify soldiers participating in the mission for hazard pay. We are engaging in manned and unmanned bombing runs over Libya territory. The Obama Administration’s assertion that neither subjection (1) nor (2) above applies is absurd and insulting to the intelligence of the American people.


FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Congress, Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.


  1. JKB says:

    Look, as long as we’re bombing people who can’t shoot back, it’s all okay. That’s not hostilities, that’s, uhm, urban renewal, yeah, that’s the ticket.

  2. hey norm says:

    give me a break…i used to get hazardous duty pay for riding in a helicopter. i’m not sure pay rates are a really a valid indicator.

  3. A voice from another precinct says:

    The real point here is that the President raised and Congress folded. Thus, things are as the President says they are even if they’re not. If you don’t want to be in places like Libya, elect different crooks and clowns who will do something about it to work in the building with the big dome on it.

  4. John Peabody says:

    The pay is a crazy issue, it used to be “combat pay” and thus off-limits to medics, chaplains, etc.calling it hazard pay was a method to get around this problem, but now you have to determine a definition of “hazard” which is obviously more of a political than a practical question.