Defense Department Releases Details on Proposed Iraq Train and Equip Fund

In an unprecedented move, the Defense Department released late last week a detailed justification of its congressional request to create a new $1.6 billion Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF). The proposed ITEF is part of the Obama Administration’s mid-November request to Congress for an additional $5.6 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding to “defeat and ultimately eliminate” the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The $5.6 billion request would also “complement” the President’s June 2014 request for an additional $5 billion Counter Terrorism Partnerships Fund to address ISIL and other terrorist groups and emergencies worldwide. Here is a summary of the main components of the Defense Department’s ITEF justification.

According to the Defense Department, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and affiliated Kurdish Security Forces (Peshmerga) have curbed ISIL’s advance on Baghdad and “Iraqi and Kurdish forces have begun to retake territory threatened or captured by the ISIL with the aid of U.S. and Coalition air strikes.” However, ITEF is needed to “rebuild ISF capabilities to conduct offensive operations to liberate ISIL-held territories.” To this end, the Defense Department and the Iraqi government have determined that training and equipping “three Iraqi Army Divisions (9 Brigades), three Kurdish Brigades, and an initial Tribal Force” is required to obtain this objective and secure Iraq’s national borders.

Despite its name, the Defense Department justification for the Iraq Train and Equip Fund shows it would only be used for the provision of weapons, military equipment and construction of training facilities with no funding for training. It is possible that the Defense Department may use funding through the Counter Terrorism Partnership Fund and other U.S. security assistance programs to train fighting forces in Iraq. American officials have stated that training for Iraqi forces will be conducted by both American and allied special operations forces including those from Turkey, Germany and other anti-IS coalition members. According to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, “Coalition nations have also pledged hundreds of personnel to support our mission to train, advise, assist, and help build the capacity of Iraqi forces.”

As far as the weapons and military equipment the Defense Department plans to provide to the Iraq Security Forces (ISF), Kurdish Security Forces and an initial Tribal Force, the bulk of it is aimed at supporting these forces to conduct ground combat operations. Of the Defense Department’s $1.6 billion total request for ITEF, around $1.2 billion would go to ISF. The high dollar items for ISF include $317 million for 1,800 medium-sized tactical cargo trucks and $90 million for body armor. The request also includes small arms and light weapons such as 43,000 M4 rifles, 1,200 M3 Carl Gustaf anti-tank missile launchers and various types of mortars ranging from 60mm to 120mm. Under the proposed budget for the ISF, the Defense Department has also requested $191 million for the repair and construction of training sites, facilities and communications capacity.

Addressing the Obama Administration’s earlier concerns about directly arming the Kurdish forces, the proposed ITEF requires that all of the arms and military equipment for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces would first go through the Iraqi government. The Peshmerga forces would receive similar equipment to that of the Iraqi Security Forces but at significantly lower levels, around $350 million. The included equipment appears to fulfill some of the request by Peshmerga officials for mine-resistant armored vehicles and protective equipment. The proposed ITEF, for example, includes 393 “Armt Carrier UAH,” which are armored personnel carriers designed to defend against small arms fire and be mine resistant. However, it doesn’t appear the proposed ITEF includes any of the “heavier weapons” the Peshmerga have requested.

The “initial Tribal Force” would receive $24 million worth of military equipment, including foreign-made AK-47s, RPK rifles and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG). This Tribal Force is intended to lay the groundwork for the Iraqi National Guard (ING), which would act as province-specific defense units. While these proposed units would better represent the citizens of their respective governorates, including Sunnis, the proposed ING has come under criticism. According to some U.S. security experts, there is a possibility that these units could reinforce sectarian divides and potentially lead to armed secessionist movements in the south. Beyond sectarian divisions, other experts have pointed to the difficulty in convincing Sunni tribal leaders who feel they have been abandoned by the central government to join it in fighting ISIL.

Attempting to encourage broader ownership of the fight against ISIL, the Defense Department’s request to Congress puts a restriction on the release of $600 million of the total $1.6 billion for ITEF (there are no restrictions on the use of $1 billion for ITEF). The Defense Department’s $600 million can only be released when the Iraqi government and coalition partners contribute an additional $600 million for the effort (the Iraqi government is required to contribute at least $300 million of the $600 million). However, the Defense Department has also included a waiver for the restriction for any transfers to Iraq that are considered significant military equipment or items on the U.S. Munitions List. Since the majority of the arms included in the equipment would fall into one of these categories, this provision may largely negate this limitation. Some of the military equipment such as unarmored trucks, mobility vehicles, radios, medical equipment are likely now on the Commerce Control List.

As highlighted in an earlier blog post, the Defense Department has also requested that Congress add in a provision to the ITEF legal authority that would allow the Secretary of Defense to “waive any provision of law…that would (but for the waiver) prohibit, restrict, limit, or otherwise constrain the exercise of that [ITEF] authority.” Responding to a similar waiver request in the Counter Terrorism Partnerships Fund, the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee rejected this waiver, as it would exempt the fund from human rights vetting. In response to concerns about this waiver, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Alistair Baskey, responded that the waiver would not alter the Defense Department’s practices regarding human rights vetting. However, the recently released ITEF justification has not altered the Defense Department’s request for the waiver.