Obama Requests $8.8 Billion Fund for Anti-ISIS Fight

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US President Barack Obama speaks at the Department of Homeland Security about the administration's fiscal year 2016 budget request released earlier today February 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP/Jim Watson

Published Tuesday, February 3, 2015

US President Barack Obama has requested $8.8 billion to fund the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in his 2016 budget unveiled Monday.

A total of $5.3 billion would go to the Pentagon to finance Operation Inherent Resolve, which was launched in August with a series of airstrikes against militants in Iraq and Syria.

In late October, the Pentagon revised its estimate of the cost of the US air war in Iraq and Syria, saying the price tag for the campaign against ISIS came to about $8.3 million a day. The Defense Department had previously put the average daily cost of the military operation at more than $7 million a day.

Last week, defense officials told AFP that US and coalition aircraft had carried out 705 bombing raids around the Syrian town of Kobane since September 23 after it was captured by jihadists.

The State Department, which has been leading efforts to build a multinational coalition against ISIS, has requested a further $3.5 billion.

The money would "strengthen regional partners... provide humanitarian assistance and strengthen Syria's moderate opposition," Deputy Secretary of State for Management Heather Higginbottom said.

The funds would also boost "collaboration with coalition partners to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL," she added, using another acronym for the group.

The US-led coalition of around 60 mainly Western and Arab states was formed several months after ISIS swept across northern Iraq, seizing swathes of territory and proclaiming a caliphate in parts of the country as well as regions in neighboring Syria.

"ISIL poses an immediate threat to Iraq, Syria, and American allies and partners throughout the region as it seeks to overthrow governments, control territory, terrorize local populations, and attack the United States and coalition partners throughout the world," Obama's budget request said.

"The ongoing conflict in Syria also continues to threaten regional stability and has displaced over 10 million people," it added. "The budget provides funding for military operations, diplomacy, governance, and humanitarian and security assistance programs to address these challenges."

Higginbottom said a further $1.1 billion had been requested by the State Department to fund diplomatic efforts in Iraq.

The effect of the open-ended US-led air campaign remains the subject of debate, with the White House saying the militants have been damaged by the strikes and critics pointing to ISIS’ advances and battlefield successes despite the raids.

The Pentagon announced on January 23 that ISIS has lost only a tiny fraction of captured territory in Iraq after five months of US-led airstrikes.

That amounted to roughly one percent of ISIS-held territory changing hands since the US launched air raids in Iraq on August 8.

Since then, Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces have reclaimed some territories in Iraq from ISIS, as well as the symbolic town of Kobane in Syria.

Damascus, Iran and other critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.

It is worth noting that the US House of Representatives adopted a $584.2 billion annual defense spending bill on December 4, which includes emergency funding for military operations against ISIS and training and equipping so-called moderate Syrian rebels.

However, it doesn’t include providing any humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees, who amount to more than 3.8 million hosted in five main countries within the region — Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt — as opposed to wealthy nations that have only taken in a "pitiful" number, according to Amnesty International.

The UN's World Food Program (WFP) said early December it needed $64 million (51 million euros) to fund its food voucher program for one month alone, and that "many donor commitments remain unfulfilled." After donors bail, WFP had to resort to social media to crowdfund for its budget.

Moreover, UNHCR announced it was cutting some of its aid to more than a quarter of refugees in Lebanon, partly due to funding shortfalls as the budget allocated for the country has increased drastically from $13.7 million to a planned $556.8 million.

The US budget allocated to the fights against ISIS represents almost 16 times the amount of money needed by UNHCR to help refugees in Lebanon.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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