Joe Gould–President Trump’s budget announced Tuesday proposes an end to President Obama’s signature counterterrorism training program, long criticized on Capitol Hill as too broad to be effective.
The White House proposal would zero out the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, from $1.8 billion in fiscal 2017. CTPF, billed as a means to provide security assistance to moderate allies fighting extremists in Africa and the Mideast, endured successive cuts in Congress and criticism Obama was too light on strategy and specifics for Congress’s liking.
The Trump administration does propose $1.8 billion for a Counter-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Train and Equip Fund — a continuation of three accounts consolidated in the 2017 budget Congress passed earlier this month. That fund is meant to support Iraqi government forces as they retake Mosul, Iraq, and vetted Syrian forces as they retake Raqqa, Syria, from the Islamic State group. The proposed funding is under the off-budget overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.
Obama, in 2014, announced the CTPF in a speech at U.S. Military Academy at West Point commencement, as a means to “more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.” He envisioned a fund of up to $5 billion, to “allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines” of Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali and beyond, he said.
But the CTPF, contained in OCO, was controversial with lawmakers of both parties, and they repeatedly acted to cut or kill it. Over the White House’s strong objections, Congress funded just $1.1 billion of the total request for fiscal 2015 and $750 million of the $1 billion request in 2016.
The 2017 defense policy and appropriations bills moved the CTPF money into the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s budget account as part of a broader security cooperation reform effort driven by Congress. The intent was to increase transparency and sustainability of security cooperation funding rather than continuing the habit of creating new standalone “funds” every time a new emphasis area popped up.
“The counterterrorism partnerships fund was a dismal failure,” one Senate aide said Tuesday. “That money can definitely be used in more effective ways.”
According to budget documents, the CTPF provided $500 million to a program train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight the Islamic State group. But the Obama administration was forced to reboot that program after Gen. Lloyd Austin, then-chief of U.S. Central Command, told Congress in late 2015 there were no more than five U.S.-trained Syrian fighters left.
The bulk of CTPF has, since its inception, gone to fight violent extremist groups in the Levant and East Africa. The Obama administration credited train-and-equip programs funded through CTPF for the ouster of militant group al-Shabaab from Mogadishu, which let the Somali government take hold.
Colby Goodman, director of the Security Assistance Monitor, said Tuesday there is a risk that without the fund, Africa and Central Asia will get less counter-terrorism support from the U.S.
“With the partnership fund, we saw a big increase to the Sahel, East Africa and Central Asia,” he said. “Part of the challenge is the funding is pulled from that and it goes to … these other programs.”