NEW DELHI: For the first time in 13 years -- since the US-led war on Afghanistan began -- Afghanistan has not featured on the agenda of a meeting on the strategy for the coming year involving Nato ministers.

The meeting was held earlier this week in Brussels, with the Islamic State and the crisis in Syria and Iraq pushing Afghanistan out of the US’ and Nato’s top agenda. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told a news briefing in Washington that following the Brussels meeting, the Obama administration will be asking Congress to authorize the use of military force against Islamic State militants.

Thus far, the legal justification for the war has been murky, based on the Congress’ 2002 authorisation of the Iraq War and the 2001 authorisation to fight Al Qaeda. The Obama administration had maintained that it wants to repeal the Iraq authorisation, ironically ending up relying on it to provide separate statutory authority for the strikes in Iraq.

The White House, however, maintains that it has the authority to act based on the 2001 AUMF which was passed after the September 11 attacks that allows the US to strike Al Qaeda. However, the legality of this position is disputed given that the IS and Al Qaeda have distanced themselves from each other, making the 2002 Iraq authorisation an added legal backing that the Obama administration has been willing to invoke.

Just a few months ago, in July, the National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that the the Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was no longer operative.

“With American combat troops having completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, 2001, the Iraq AUMF is no longer used for any U.S. government activities and the Administration fully supports its repeal,” Rice wrote to Speaker of the House in July.

Time Magazine reproduced a statement by a senior Obama administration official that explains how the 2001 AUMF can be applied to the Islamic State.

“The 2001 AUMF authorizes the use of “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” responsible for 9/11 and those who “harbored such organizations or persons.” The Administration has interpreted the 2001 AUMF to authorize the use of force against AQ, the Taliban, and associated forces. Based on ISIL’s longstanding relationship with al-Qa’ida (AQ) and Usama bin Laden; its long history of conducting, and continued desire to conduct, attacks against U.S. persons and interests, the extensive history of U.S. combat operations against ISIL dating back to the time the group first affiliated with AQ in 2004; and ISIL’s position — supported by some individual members and factions of AQ-aligned groups — that it is the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy, the President may rely on the 2001 AUMF as statutory authority for the use of force against ISIL, notwithstanding the recent public split between AQ’s senior leadership and ISIL.”

A statement provided to the New York Times echoed a similar position, with a senior official saying, “The president may rely on the 2001 A.U.M.F. as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing. “As we have explained, the 2002 Iraq A.U.M.F. would serve as an alternative statutory authority basis on which the president may rely for military action in Iraq. Even so, our position on the 2002 A.U.M.F. hasn’t changed and we’d like to see it repealed.”

Obama’s move for a new authorisation is in light of the above complications, especially as Congress is to rule whether the current engagement in Iraq counts as a new engagement or an extension of the previous Iraq war.