The Proposed Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund

Middle East and North Africa

During the United States Military Academy’s Commencement Ceremony at West Point last week, President Obama called on Congress “to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) of up to $5 billion,” which he indicated would allow the United States to “train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.”

According to President Obama, the funds would allow for “the 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.”

President Obama also noted a “critical focus” of the money would be dedicated to the ongoing crisis in Syria. This would include supporting Syria’s neighbors—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq—as “they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders” and supporting “those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.”

News of the CTPF “came as a shock” to lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, who were given “no warning and no details of the plan,” before its announcement, The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reported.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) told The Daily Beast that the new proposed counterterrorism fund “is not an acceptable substitute for determined leadership” to address the growing threat of global terrorism. “The administration has already asked for nearly $8 billion in International Security Assistance funding, which includes both international military training and financing programs. I am curious to learn more how this new ‘fund’ would make Americans safer and enhance the Unites States’ leadership abroad,” Kirk added.  

A White House press release outlining the CTPF indicated the administration would like the fund to be placed in the Department of Defense’s portion of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for Fiscal Year 2015. OCO is separate from the normal U.S. Department of Defense budget and is the account the government used to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Because of a lack of transparency in reporting, it is unclear exactly how much of the DOD’s security assistance is allocated specifically to counterterrorism efforts. However, several DOD security assistance programs provide counterterrorism support, though in much smaller amounts than would be provided through the proposed $5 billion CTPF. For example, in 2013, the U.S. allocated $241 million in security assistance under the Section 1206 Train and Equip program, which builds recipient countries’ military capacity to conduct counterterrorism operations and is seemingly very similar to the new fund. Other programs include Global Lift and Sustain, the Global Security Contingency Fund, and the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program.

Many foreign policy analysts responded positively to the idea of providing additional funding, but offered several caveats and warnings. The Washington Post editorial board suggested the new CTPF is “worthy of support” but cautioned, “just as a U.S. invasion is not needed for every terrorist haven, not all can be eliminated by training other countries’ forces.”

The New York Times editorial board explained, “in theory it makes sense,” but highlighted that the U.S. has a “checkered history in such endeavors, and Mr. Obama made only a cursory mention of other factors crucial to success [in combating terrorism] including responsible governance and education for all.”

Retired 4-Star Navy Admiral and Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, James Stavridis, praised the President for providing “a strong plan to drive forward against violent extremists through international partnerships,” including the CTPF. While David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP Group, commended the initiative, he also advised the U.S. to scrutinize its partners because, “the people we need to trust weren't always trustworthy or capable of helping.”

However, not everyone agreed the President’s proposal was a good idea. Gordon Adams, Professor of International Relations at American University’s School of International Service, challenged the efficacy of the program and suggested the fund steps “all over previously created authorities and accelerates a decade-long trend toward the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.”

If the proposed fund is approved and fully funded, it will provide a significant increase to the current counterterrorism assistance budget and security assistance more broadly. In the same West Point speech, President Obama mentioned the importance of transparency in U.S. counterterrorism actions:

I also believe we must be more transparent about both the basis of our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried out.  We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it is drone strikes or training partners.  I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts.  Our intelligence community has done outstanding work, and we have to continue to protect sources and methods.  But when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.

An explanation of how the assistance and training carried out through this new fund will be different from that which is already provided through the existing accounts is one place to uphold this commitment to transparency, followed by more detailed reporting by the Department of Defense on how funds are allocated through this and other security assistance programs.