US Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard shakes hands with commander of the Manbij Military Council Muhammed Abu Adeel last week. Photo: Susannah George/AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United States Department of Defense (DoD) has requested $1.4 billion for its train and equip programs in Iraq and Syria as part of the war against ISIS in its budget request for the 2019 fiscal year.
Noting “significant progress” in the war against ISIS having regained nearly 100 percent of territory in Iraq and Syria from the extremist group, the defense department is focused on ensuring the defeat of ISIS “by consolidating gains and setting the conditions for a more stable region,” DoD stated in its budget proposal.
“Working by, with, and through Iraqi and Syrian partners, the Department is helping to provide security in liberated areas, prevent the reemergence of the ISIS threat, and set conditions for long-term stability,” it stated.
A key aspect of the long-term strategy is building up local forces. The DoD has requested $1.4 billion for its Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund for 2019. This is down $400 million from 2018.
This amount is broken down into $850 million for training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces, $300 million for training and equipping vetted Syrian opposition forces, and $250 million for “border security requirements related to the counter-ISIS mission.”
In northern Syria, the US is partnered with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF controls roughly a quarter of the country. The US also has a small garrison in the south, At Tanf, where they are training local forces.
It is not immediately clear where the $250 million for border security will be allocated and if this will fund efforts to build a border security force in Syria.
When the United States announced in January a plan to train a 30,000-strong border force with the SDF to secure the borders of Rojava, the self-autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, Washington’s NATO ally Ankara was enraged.
Turkey considers the Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the armed YPG and the political party PYD, extensions of the PKK, a named terror organization.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walked back the border force announcement, saying it “was not properly described.” He said the US was not creating a border security force but was training forces that were “internally focused.”
Turkey’s fears were not appeased, however, and soon afterwards Ankara launched its Operation Olive Branch on Afrin.
Turkish media have reported on the budget request as $550 million investment in the “PYD/PKK.”
The defense department also requested $1.1 billion in support for coalition forces.
In the proposal, DoD predicts that troop levels in Iraq and Syria will remain unchanged at 5,765 total in the two countries. These forces are “associated with enabling ongoing counter-ISIS operations and conducting Iraq and Syria train and equip efforts,” the report stated.