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The $5 Billion Fund to Pay for Iraq Ops Doesn’t Exist

During his commencement speech at West Point last month, President Obama announced the creation of a $5 billion counterterrorism fund that would pay for American operations against terrorist around the world. Last Thursday, he said that the fund would be used for the first time to pay for 300 Special Operations soldiers to go to Iraq to consult in the fights against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq.

"We're prepared to create joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat of ISIS," Obama said. "Through our new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, we're prepared to work with Congress to provide additional equipment. We have had advisors in Iraq through our embassy, and we're prepared to send a small number of additional American military advisors up to 300 to assess how we can best train, advise, and support Iraqi security forces going forward."

A Sadr militiamen stands guard on a rooftop as units of Moqtada Sadr's militia parade down a main street of the Shi'a stronghold of Sadr City June 21, 2014 in Eastern Baghdad.
Scott Nelson | Washington Post | Getty Images
A Sadr militiamen stands guard on a rooftop as units of Moqtada Sadr's militia parade down a main street of the Shi'a stronghold of Sadr City June 21, 2014 in Eastern Baghdad.

Obama's vision for the fund is a resource in which American allies can invest in the fight against terrorism. The $5 billion investment by the United States is a show of good faith, a gesture to American allies that Washington is serious about continuing the fight against al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists.

The White House stated the fund "will provide the flexibility and resources required to respond to emerging needs as terrorist threats around the world continue to evolve. The CTPF will build on existing tools and authorities to allow the Administration to respond to evolving terrorist threats. It will allow us to pursue a more sustainable and effective approach to combating terrorism that focuses on empowering and enabling our partners around the globe."

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The administration claims the Iraqi mission will be the fund's first. There's just one problem: the fund does not yet exist, and neither the White House nor Congress has taken any action to create it.

"He is promising financial support to Iraq that he does not have. The $ 5 billion Counter-Terrorism Partnership Fund he is counting on does not exist. There is no such fund," said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University and an expert of DOD's budget.

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'A Hot Mess'

Adams, who has years of experience working in the defense policy world and is the go-to expert on DOD's budget, has been critical of the fund since it was announced. In an article in Foreign Policy published after Obama's announcement, he called the fund a "hot mess."

Adam's outlines numerous problems with the fund. First, the administration gave Congress little notice that it was being created. Second, the fund "is stepping all over previously created authorities and accelerates a decade-long trend toward the militarization of U.S. foreign policy," Adams wrote.

Another problem is that the fund is redundant; there are already a number of other funds the president could use to pay for counterterrorism operations.

"There are other US counter-terror programs he did not discuss," Adams told The Fiscal Times. They include Section 1206 and Section 1208, two funds created at the start of the war on terror that pay for counterterrorism assistance in foreign countries and Special Forces counterterrorism operations respectively.

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Obama also has access to the Global Lift and Sustain Fund and the Global Security Contingency Fund. The former fund pays for counterterrorism operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while the latter funds security improvements in foreign countries.

Adams argues that adding another fund to an already crowded field would further muddle the counterterrorism fight. Obama provided no details about whether the new fund would replace the old ones.

"His West Point speech provided no details on that fund; there has, to date, been no administration request for either the statutory authorities that would create that fund or the budget that would provide its money," Adams said.

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Congressional Signoff?

If Congress creates the fund, the money to pay for it would come out of the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. This money is appropriated by Congress, is set aside to fight wars and is not a part of DOD's official budget.

There's no indication that Congress is on board with the plan. Immediately after the fund was announced, a number of lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, questioned whether it was needed.

"We weren't consulted at all, so it's a little hard to comment on something we know nothing about," Boehner's spokesperson Kevin Smith told the Daily Beast.

Even if Congress does create the fund, it would not be ready to pay for an imminent operation in Iraq.

"In the best of circumstances, such a fund would only exist later this year, if Congress agrees to provide both the authorities and the money," Adams said. "The fund is not available now for the purposes he described in Iraq."

By David Francis, The Fiscal Times