Top US diplomat says 25-percent budget cuts won’t change effectiveness

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The United States’ is trying to reassure international partners that billions of dollars in State Department budget cuts won’t affect “our mission” abroad as it supports local partners in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq on the final defeat of ISIS on the battlefield and it supports the return of millions of Iraqis to their homes.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriation on Foreign Operation Committees on Tuesday, Secretary Rex Tillerson defended President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request of $37.6 billion, arguing it “aligns with the administration’s objective of making America’s security our top priority.”

USAID’s budget peaked during former President Barack Obama’s last year in office at $50.3 billion. Obama’s first budget proposal for 2009 was a mere $11.5 billion.

The proposed 25 percent decrease from 2017 comes at a time when the US-led international coalition is on the cusp of a military defeat of ISIS in its two largest urban areas of Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria.

The Associated Press reported in March that Tillerson has the goal of reducing diplomatic spending by 37 percent over the next three years, while encouraging the United Nations to be more efficient with its programs.

“The first responsibility of government is the security of its own citizens, and we will orient our diplomatic efforts toward fulfilling that commitment” said Tillerson, iterating Trump’s ‘America First’ policy.

Kurdish officials have warned that the ideology and conditions that led the ISIS must be defeated; otherwise the region could face the group in its next form.

Diplomatic missions in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq support humanitarian, education,  capacity building, among other programs.

“As Ambassador [Douglas] Silliman has said, the key to unlocking the return of internally displaced Iraqis is, first of all, de-mining.  And our programs, in conjunction with the other countries’, and in conjunction with other UN programs, have been very important,” a spokesperson for the US consulate general in Erbil told Rudaw English

The spokesperson said the US has contributed almost $100 million on demining in Iraq in 2016 and 2017.

“Most of the program employees are Iraqis hired from the communities they work in. This has been very important, because after a city is liberated from ISIS, it's very important to remove the dangers to civilians returning, the dangers to the return of government employees, including people like the police, the electricity ministry, the water ministry, who have to help repair the services for the city,” the spokesperson explained.

The US Department of Defense has requested $1.269 for its Fiscal Year 2018 Iraq Train and Equip program — an increase of $92.6 million, which “excludes $289.5 million requested in the FY 2017/2018 Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF) for support to the Kurdish Peshmerga.”

US officials have proposed a three-year plan to “support will be a continued partnership with the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) as it transitions from its current role as an elite conventional force to a more traditional special operations role.” 

“Our budget will never be determined — will never determine our ability to be effective; our people will,” Tillerson said speaking to the resolve of his State Department employees, whose roles often cross paths with their Defense Department counterparts.

In January, the United States announced the construction of a new US consulate complex in the Kurdistan Region to cost $600 million, and will be built on 200,000 square meters on Erbil-Shaqlawa Road. The Erbil complex will be constructed by four American and some local companies and will finish in four years.

The US initially opened a diplomatic office in Erbil in February 2007, which it later upgraded to a consulate general in 2011.

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Top US diplomat says 25-percent budget cuts won’t change effectiveness Top US diplomat says 25-percent budget cuts won’t change effectiveness Reviewed by Defense Alert on 00:11:00 Rating: 5

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