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Congress seeks to kill Obama's counterterrorism fund

The Senate spending panel approved legislation to defund the president's signature proposal.
The U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, August 2, 2011. The United States is poised to step back from the brink of economic disaster on Tuesday when a bitterly fought deal to cut the budget deficit is expected to clear its final hurdles in the U.S. Senate.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR2PJWQ

WASHINGTON — Senate appropriators passed a defense spending bill June 11 that would kill President Barack Obama's signature counterterrorism training program amid criticism that it's too broad to do any good.

The Defense Department is seeking $2.1 billion for the so-called Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, which aims to facilitate partnerships and "provide the flexibility to respond to a range of terrorist threats and crisis response scenarios." Lawmakers, however, balked at funding what they consider an ill-defined program that they would have trouble properly overseeing. 

"The Committee remains supportive of increased engagement with partner nations to address terrorist threats in the Middle East and Africa," the Senate Appropriations Committee said in its draft report accompanying the legislation. "However, the Committee is concerned about the Department's ability to wisely execute $2,900,000,000 of CTPF funds in fiscal years 2015 through 2017 in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars provided for other capacity building programs."

Instead, the spending bill would reduce the funding request by $1.1 billion and transfer the remaining $1 billion to another, department-wide account. The Senate floor could vote on the bill as early as next week.

The White House is urging lawmakers to reconsider.

"The Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) would provide the flexibility and resources required to empower and enable partners in responding to shared terrorist threats around the world — from the Sahel to Southeast Asia," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told Al-Monitor in an emailed statement. "The fund builds on existing tools and authorities to allow the Administration to respond to evolving terrorist threats. We continue to call on Congress to appropriately fund this mechanism, which will directly contribute to the safety and security of the American people."

The Senate Appropriations vote follows similar moves by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in recent weeks. The House last month passed a defense authorization bill that also recommends doing away with the program, while the Senate is scheduled to vote next week on a version of the bill that proposes cutting the funds for the program down to $1 billion.

The House, however, on June 11 approved a defense spending bill that fully funds the program to the $2.1 billion level requested by the administration.

The CTPF was announced to great fanfare by Obama during his West Point commencement address just over a year ago. At the time, the president touted the program as a crucial tool to train and equip moderate forces fighting Islamist extremists in Syria and elsewhere. 

"These resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al-Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali," Obama said in his speech.

The fund was expected to: 

  • Conduct expanded train and equip activities.
  • More effectively facilitate and enable the counterterrorism efforts of our partners on the front lines.
  • Provide security and stabilization assistance, as well as support efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorist ideology.

The effort immediately ran into resistance on Capitol Hill, however, where skeptical lawmakers last year only appropriated $1.3 billion out of the $4 billion the Department of Defense sought for its part of the program (the State Department also has a smaller portion of the program under its purview). That $1.3 billion included $500 million for the Syria train-and-equip program, which would be funded separately in the current proposals.

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