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Published On: Tue, Feb 13th, 2018

U.S. Defense Department requests $1.4bn for Iraq, Syria train and equip program in 2019

nsnbc : 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 continued war against ISIS  in its budget request for the 2019 fiscal year.

Syria_Raqqa_SDF press conferencein Raqqa_Oct 2017The U.S. Defense Department noted “significant progress” in the war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The DoD also noted that nearly 100% of territory previously held by ISIS has been regained. The DoD, in its budget proposal, also states that “by consolidating gains and setting the conditions for a more stable region.”

“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, according to the DoD. 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.”

US Marines and special forces in northern Syria_2016_Archives_In northern Syria, the U.S. is partnered with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) constitute the main force of the SDF. The SDF controls roughly a quarter of the country. The U.S. also has a small garrison in the south, At Tanf, where they are training local forces.

Critics stress that the U.S. is building a de facto occupation force in Syria; Others note that the U.S. or rather U.S. networks previously backed Islamic State.

The YPG and the SDF, for their part, stress that they will respect Syria’s territorial integrity. Many analysts believe that U.S. policy is currently aiming to create the preconditions for a semi-autonomous Syrian Kurdistan modeled over Iraq and its Kurdistan Autonomous Region (KAR).

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 semi-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 its all female branch, the YPJ, and the political party PYD, as terrorist organizations allied and on par with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party.

November 2017, expecting an invasion by Turkey or Turkey-backed islamists, the YPG established its Eight Military Regiment in Afrin.

November 2017, expecting an invasion by Turkey or Turkey-backed islamists, the YPG established its Eight Military Regiment in Afrin.

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.

F/AK – nsnbc 13.02.2018

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