The U.S. can’t deploy as many as 1,500 additional personnel to train, equip and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces unless Congress approves $1.6 billion in added war funding, the Pentagon comptroller said.
“We can’t get started in any meaningful way on these train-and-equip programs without new funding and authority,” Michael McCord said today in an interview. The $1.6 billion is “the most time-sensitive” part of a $5.6 billion request that President Barack Obama made last week to fight Islamic State extremists, McCord said.
While the president has the power as commander-in-chief to deploy American troops, paying for them to train the forces of other nations is another matter, McCord said. “It’s either you have the authority or you don’t,” McCord said. “If you don’t have some legislative authority, we are very hamstrung.”
The Defense Department has more budget flexibility to fund U.S. operations overseas than it does when American dollars are used to train foreign troops, such as Syrian rebels and Iraqi and Kurdish forces, McCord said.
The 1,500 U.S. personnel would be in addition to 1,600 already authorized by Obama, of which about 1,400 are now in Iraq. The effort would be focused on nine Iraqi brigades and three Kurdish units, with an initial push in Anbar province, the location of some of the most intense fighting in Iraq.
Most of the $1.6 billion request will be for equipping Iraqi forces rather than training them, McCord said, because Iraq will pay for unit operations and pay its forces.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify tomorrow before the House Armed Services Committee on the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State, which has seized a swath of Iraq and Syria.
They’re expected to urge rapid passage of a war-funding request that incorporates the $5.6 billion along with other missions — most of them in Afghanistan — into what’s now a $63.6 billion proposal.
Some legislators may challenge Hagel and Dempsey on the administration’s strategy against Islamic State and Obama’s request for a congressional vote to authorize it.
Some Democrats have said they’re concerned that U.S. forces will become mired in ground combat in Iraq, despite Obama’s pledge that won’t happen. Some Republicans say Obama should take more aggressive action, such as moving more quickly to arm non-Islamic State rebels in Syria and enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria near the Turkish border.
“I remain concerned that the president’s strategy to defeat ISIL is insufficient,” Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, the Republican chairman of the House committee, said in a statement last week, using an acronym for Islamic State. “I would urge the president to reconsider his strategy and clearly explain how this additional funding supports a new direction.”
Navy Commander William Urban, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mail today that as of Nov. 6, the average daily cost of operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was $8 million a day, or a total of $728 million since the start of bombing operations on Aug. 8.
Through today, the U.S.-led coalition has flown more than 9,000 air missions, including 877 airstrikes dropping or launching more than 2,400 munitions, according to U.S. Central Command data.
The proposed war budget normally would be passed as part of the pending fiscal 2015 request by the defense committees that authorize spending — the armed services panels — and the appropriations committees before approval by both chambers.
“I don’t anticipate they are going to pass” a final authorization this month, “but in December, those are the parts we would we need,” McCord said of the request for Iraq.
Short of enacting a full authorization bill, the Pentagon would welcome approval of the war budget as part of an “omnibus” legislative package or “continuing resolution” that temporarily funds the government at current levels, McCord said. A current resolution funds the government through Dec. 11.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at [email protected] Larry Liebert