The Pentagon foresees a role for itself in Iraq and possibly eastern Syria post-Islamic State, telling Congress that stability will require arming and training fighters to the tune of $1.8 billion over three years, at least.
Achieving President Donald Trump’s goal of defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) may include a catch, as the Pentagon’s 2018 budget request warns Congress of “Iraqi instability, [exacerbating] sectarian divisions, [contributing] to extremism, and [allowing] outside actors to destabilize the country,” if $1.3 billion is not allocated toward extending the Obama-era program to equip and train the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), according to Defense News.
Another $500 million would go towards a similar arming and training program for Syrian fighters.
While the combined $1.8 billion represents just about one-fifth of 1 percent of the total 2018 defense budget request, the CTS program receives no funding from the Iraqi government. The Pentagon seeks to put the money to use over a three-year period to grow and expand CTS, despite the force reportedly losing 40 percent of its troops in combat.
CTS is not an official arm of the Iraqi military, rather it serves under the Iraqi prime minister. Therefore, the Pentagon budget request describes the US interest as providing “a political and physical counterweight to Iranian and Russian influence,” and to “reassure Iraqi Sunnis of their importance to the fight against ISIS, while gaining [Baghdad’s] acceptance,” Defense News reported.
The budget document predicts “post-ISIS challenges, such as enabling the rule of law, establishing border security, securing critical infrastructure, and addressing future extremist threats,” all familiar problems for the US military. Some manifested in Iraq’s Diyala province in 2015 after the province was liberated from IS, as leftover fighters and rival Shiite militias attacked civilians, according to Defense News.
If approved, the budget would include, for next year, $445 million worth of training and equipment for Iraqi security forces as well as $329 million for past and projected equipment losses and replacements, Defense News reported. Equipment includes 200 AM General-made Humvees, 80 Iraqi light armored vehicles, 25 Oshkosh-made FMTV cargo trucks and 10 armored bulldozers.
There is also $193 million for vehicles, guns and personal equipment, as the vision for CTS is to make it “an elite infantry force” and transition it into a counterterrorism unit after Islamic State is removed from its stronghold in Mosul, Iraq.