White House Proposes $1.6 Billion for New “Iraq Train and Equip Fund”

Middle East and North Africa

The White House sent a request to Congress yesterday to approve an additional $5.6 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding to support a strategy to “degrade, and ultimately defeat” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Within the $5.6 billion, the Obama Administration is asking for $1.6 billion for a new Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF). The $1.6 billion request is in addition to the President’s earlier request for a $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnership Fund (CTPF), which would be used against ISIL and other terrorist groups. As Congress debates the ITEF, however, it is possible they will reject certain controversial aspects that were included in the administration’s original CTPF request.

According to an Office of Management and Budget letter, the new ITEF would provide the Defense Department with the “resources and authorities” to develop and support the military and other seaU.S. Army Trains Iraqi Military Police on Markmanship in October 2007curity forces of Iraq, including Kurdish and tribal security forces, to address ISIL for three years. The new fund would include the provision of “equipment, supplies, services, training, facility and infrastructure repair, renovation, construction, and stipends.” The U.S. military reportedly plans to “train nine Iraqi Army brigades and three Kurdish brigades, along with up to 5,000 Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province.”

The proposed ITEF is somewhat similar to the Defense Department-funded Iraq Security Forces Fund (ISSF), which provided $20.2 billion in U.S. security assistance to Iraq from FY 2005 to FY 2011, but is no longer active. According to an U.S. Army Combined Armed Center website, the ISSF was used to provide military aid to Iraqi security forces, including "Iraqi Army, Iraqi police forces, special task forces and border security." (Before FY 2005, the U.S. government provided training and equipment to the Iraqi security forces through various versions of the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund).

The White House’s proposed Iraq Train and Equip Fund also includes a provision that was expressly stripped out of the administration’s proposed CTPF by the Senate earlier this year. Similar to the CTPF, the administration is asking Congress to allow the Secretary of Defense to “waive any other provision of law that would otherwise prohibit, restrict, limit, or otherwise constrain the obligation or expenditure of funds” for the ITEF. In response to a similar provision in the CTPF, a Senate defense appropriations subcommittee report published in late July said “the Committee does not support broad exemptions from current laws that could result in the training of foreign security services that would otherwise be ineligible for such assistance.” This includes restrictions on U.S. security assistance to fighting forces with a gross human rights record.

The Congress will surely grapple with the above issues as well as many other aspects of the proposed ITEF and the President’s strategy to combat ISIL. As they do, it will also be important for them to review the past challenges with the use of the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund and the Iraq Security Forces Fund and whether the U.S. government needs a new train and equip fund given the many other existing U.S. security assistance programs that can be used for this purpose. This review is essential to preventing future problems with U.S. security assistance to Iraq.

Corrections: This blog post was updated on December 3, 2014 to address earlier issues with concurrence of the State Department and the Iraq Security Forces Fund.