Biden signs defense bill: funds Kurdish forces fighting ISIS
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – US President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law the bill authorizing defense spending for the next fiscal year. The legislation, formally known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), contains significant funding for Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The total amount authorized in the NDAA is $771 billion. Out of that sum, $260 million is allocated for the Peshmerga in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and $177 million for two groups in Syria.
One of those groups is the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria, and the other is the Maghawir al-Thawra (MaT, Revolutionary Commandoes), which operates in southeast Syria, at the al-Tanf garrison.
Read More: US defense bill includes major support for Kurdish forces fighting ISIS
NDAA Allocations: Military Drones and Gas Masks
Notable in the funding of the Peshmerga forces is the allocation of $5 million for a military drone (Puma Unmanned Aircraft System), which will mark a first for the Peshmerga.
Notable in the funding for Syria is $440,000 for 1,000 gas masks. At ISIS's core is the former Iraqi regime—as the highly-regarded German news magazine, Der Spiegel, explained. The former Iraqi regime was known for its use of chemical weapons, including against the Kurds—most notoriously in the Anfal campaign of the late 1980s.
In 2015, ISIS used chemical weapons against the Peshmerga, after which Iraqi forces, including the Peshmerga, were supplied with gas masks.
Read More: ISIS used chemical weapons against Peshmerga, others
In addition, the Syrian regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its opponents in that country's civil war.
Read More: French-Syrian man arrested in France over chemical weapons parts in Syria
The funds allocated for the Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIS, including the Kurdish forces, is the clearest, most concrete, and most unequivocal statement from the Biden administration that it intends to remain in Iraq and Syria to continue the fight against ISIS, despite earlier, widespread misreporting.
Read More: Pentagon: 'US forces will remain in Iraq'
The NDAA Overall: China as #1 Threat, Russia as #2
The 2022 NDAA represents a 5% increase over the previous year's spending and reflects Washington's general priorities: China, which the Pentagon refers to as "the pacing challenge," followed by Russia.
The NDAA includes $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which is focused on deterring China's expansionism, and $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative, which is focused on Russia.
Although the Pentagon has identified China as the top threat, the most immediate threat may well prove to be Russia.
The NDAA also includes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
Tensions between the US and Europe, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, have reached new heights over Ukraine—unprecedented since the early 1980s, when the Soviet Union still existed.
Already last month, the US began to warn its European allies that Russian President Vladimir Putin might well be planning to attack Ukraine, as Moscow concentrated some 100,000 troops on its border with that country.
"American intelligence officials are warning allies that there is a short window of time to prevent Russia from taking military action in Ukraine, pushing European countries to work with the United States to develop a package of economic and military measures to deter Moscow," The New York Times reported in mid-November.
Since then, Russian rhetoric has escalated, marked by repeated claims that the US, Europe, and NATO are all threatening the country.
On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu charged that Americans were planning to use chemical weapons in eastern Ukraine in order to implicate Russian-allied forces there.
"We have identified the presence of over 120 members of US mercenary groups in the cities of Avdiivka and Krasny Liman [planning] to commit provocations," Shoigu charged, as The Moscow Times, citing the state-run TASS news agency, reported.
"Tanks filled with unidentified chemical components were delivered to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations," he claimed.
On Monday, Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin warned foreign ambassadors in Moscow that NATO provocations carried a "great risk of developing into an armed standoff," TASS reported.
Since there are no US "mercenaries" in Ukraine, let alone any force planning a chemical attack, and NATO is not engaged in provocations against Russia, the concern is that such charges are intended to serve as a pretext for a Russian assault.
If Moscow does attack Ukraine, it would be in January, after the ground has frozen sufficiently hard (to a depth of three feet) to allow Russian tanks to traverse the territory freely.
Washington has said that it will impose extremely tough economic sanctions, in concert with its European allies, if such an assault occurs. However, Washington has also made clear it will not respond militarily.
In yet another twist, late on Monday, it was announced that a series of discussions are now scheduled to address these tensions.
A US National Security Council Spokesperson told Reuters and AFP that US and Russian officials would meet on Jan. 10 to discuss Ukraine and nuclear arms control.
In addition, Russian and NATO officials will most likely meet on Jan. 12, the Spokesperson said, while there will be a third meeting on Jan. 13 involving Russia, the US, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.