WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US Department of Defense (DoD) released on Monday its budget request for the Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund (CTEF) program in Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region, and in Syria for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, which begins on October 1.
The budget request includes $126 million for Peshmerga salaries, along with another $95 million for Peshmerga reforms. An additional sum is allocated for entries that include logistical support, infrastructure, supplies, etc. However, the budget proposal does not distinguish between materiel that will go to the Peshmerga and that which will go to other components of the Iraqi Security Forces.
The requested sums, it should be stressed, are just the start of the process. Both houses of Congress must approve the budget, and President Donald Trump must sign it. In the process, the figures may change.
Notably, gas masks are included in the equipment identified as required for Iraqi forces. The Pentagon seeks 2,500 gas masks.
The Islamic State manufactured and used chemical weapons, including against the Peshmerga, who were, initially, poorly equipped to deal with that threat. However, it seems that military forces in Iraq, including the Peshmerga, now have such masks, and the FY 2020 request is for a new group that the Coalition will stand up: Special Forces (Qwat Khasah.)
The total budget request for Iraq is $745 million. The total request for Syria is $300 million, the bulk of which will be used to support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s main partner in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
Although the US will withdraw the bulk of its 2,000 troops from Syria, once the Islamic State is defeated militarily, it plans to establish a safe zone there which will be monitored by some 400 US soldiers, along with French and British troops.
The CTEF program is a “crucial part” of America’s “whole-of-government approach to support the lasting defeat of ISIS,” the Pentagon budget request explains. The program “specifically supports” DoD’s “efforts to work ‘by, with, and through’ the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Iraq and the Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO) in Syria.”
The request also describes the Pentagon’s view of the Islamic State threat in Iraq: “ISIS will attempt to rebuild combat power through clandestine networks,” it states.
“Despite territorial losses inside Iraq, many of the underlying causes that enabled ISIS to take and hold territory remain,” it continued, “and can only be addressed through a whole-of-government approach in partnership with the Government of Iraq.”
That is similar to the view of the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG.) Chancellor Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, for example, recently emphasized to a visiting US delegation “the need to normalize areas cleared from ISIS, strengthen stabilization efforts, and delegate security to local communities to allow the displaced to return home.”
In coordination with the Pentagon budget request, Vice President Mike Pence spoke on Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and thanked him “for his strong support of the enduring partnership” with the US, while affirming the US commitment to stand with Iraq “to defeat the remnants of ISIS and help Christian & Yazidi communities rebuild & recover from years of terrorism and war.”
Spoke today w/ PM @AdilAbdAlMahdi of Iraq. Thanked him for his strong support of the enduring partnership between the US & the Iraqi people. US stands w/ Iraq to defeat the remnants of ISIS and help Christian & Yazidi communities rebuild & recover from years of terrorism and war.— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) March 18, 2019
In addition, the top Democrats and Republicans on three House committees—Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Armed Services—issued a joint statement on Monday in support of America’s continued partnership with Iraq.
“The United States must remain committed to supporting a sovereign and democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors and safe for its citizens, regardless of their religion, sect or ethnicity,” the statement began.
House national security Chairmen & Ranking Members released a joint statement: "After years of American and Iraqi citizens struggling and sacrificing side by side, the United States must remain committed to supporting a sovereign and democratic #Iraq."https://t.co/tcw9m72GY6— House Foreign Affairs Committee (@HouseForeign) March 18, 2019
The statement noted the significance of US security assistance to Iraq, as well as the importance of helping “nearly two million internally displaced persons to safely and voluntarily return home.”
It also stressed the importance of improving Iraq’s economy, which suffers from high unemployment, by promoting “new opportunities for Iraqi trade and development.”
We thank America for standing by Kurdistan & Iraq against ISIS and for supporting #peshmerga and #Iraqi military. The threat from ISIS is far from over. @Kurdistan welcomes continuing partnership. @RepEliotEngel @RepMcCaul @RepAdamSchiff @RepDevinNunes @RepAdamSmith @MacTXPress https://t.co/TclqEbMKrs— Bayan Sami Rahman (@BayanRahman) March 18, 2019
In response, the KRG Representative to Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, tweeted the KRG’s appreciation to America and its Congressional leaders “for standing by Kurdistan & Iraq against ISIS and for supporting #peshmerga and #Iraqi military.”
Editing by Nadia Riva