US clarifies confusion over 2019 funds for SDF

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – On Tuesday, the Pentagon clarified a misunderstanding that had arisen over its requested funding for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

According to the budget that it sent to Congress, the Defense Department has asked for $300 million for funding its partner forces in Syria that have been fighting the Islamic State (IS).

The largest element among those forces is the SDF, which is led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization because of its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The US does not, and, rather, sees the YPG as a valuable partner.

On Monday, the Pentagon released its proposed budget for the next fiscal year (which runs from Oct. 1, 2018, to Sep. 30, 2019). The budget requires Congressional approval—and may be changed by Congress—before it becomes law.

The FY 2019 budget includes $300 million for the Counter-IS Train and Equip Fund (CTEF) in Syria. The Pentagon describes that money as funding for the Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO). But, as the SDF constitutes, by far, the largest element in the VSO, it will receive the biggest share of the $300 million.

The budget also includes $250 million for “Other”—which Pentagon officials described as “border security.”

On Monday, the same day that the budget was released, Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency reported that the $250 million was for an SDF border force and concluded that the Trump administration would be appropriating a total of $550 million to support the YPG.

A month ago, officers from the US-led Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the coalition fighting IS, announced that the US would be forming a 30,000-man Border Security Force in Syria.

Half of the new Border Security Force would be composed of SDF fighters, while the other half was still to be recruited. The mid-January announcement immediately drew Ankara’s ire, and US officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were quick to explain that CJTF-OIR had “misspoke” and “we are not creating a border security force at all.”

But, the mistrust lingers. The conclusion of Turkish media that the $250 million in the FY 2019 budget was meant for an SDF border force was erroneous.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon’s Public Affairs office clarified that the border security elements to be supported by the $250 million were not Syrian.

“The $250 million is requested to provide border security support for the governments of Jordan and Lebanon, not for partner forces in Syria,” a spokesperson told Kurdistan 24.

The new budget also includes $850 million for CTEF in Iraq. Previously, the US has allocated specific monies for the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Kurdistan 24 asked the Pentagon whether any of the $850 million for Iraq in the FY 2019 budget was dedicated for use by the Peshmerga but has received no answer.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

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