The Pentagon is scrambling to figure out how to keep its personnel in Iraq after Congress failed to authorize funding for the hundreds of U.S. military personnel involved in training the Iraqi security forces.
In its final act before leaving town earlier this month, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) that failed to reauthorize the main mission of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq (OSC-I), despite Pentagon warnings that the move could force the military to withdraw hundreds of U.S. troops who are still in Baghdad helping to develop the Iraqi security forces and working with them on counterterrorism. The authority for U.S. forces to train and assist the Iraqi security forces expired Sunday.
While the bill was going through Congress, the Pentagon told lawmakers that if the authorization weren't renewed, the Defense Department would have to withdraw 220 of the 296 personnel it currently has in Iraq, congressional sources said. In response to questions submitted by The Cable, the Pentagon said it was still trying to figure out how to adjust.
"No personnel will return immediately to the United States on Oct. 1, 2012 while DoD is reviewing the effect of not being authorized under the Continuing Resolution to continue the training of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) following expiration of the Iraqi Security Forces Fund (ISFF) authority on Sept. 30, 2012," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Wesley Miller said in his response. "The Department of Defense is reviewing the availability of other authorities that may authorize OSC-I to conduct training activities in Iraq."
Congressional sources said the bill doesn't cut off all funding for the Iraqi security forces, but does cut off all funding related to the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), a unit of elite Iraqi forces that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, not through the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
The Pentagon spokesman said that the Defense Department does not believe that the loss of authorities will negatively affect the relationship between OSC-I and CTS or OSC-I's ability to train the CTS. "The Government of Iraq is responsible for counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and therefore directing the activities and operations of the CTS," Miller said.
But congressional sources said that Central Command's plans, strategy, and policy directorate, known as J5, is working hard to figure out how to keep up its activities in Baghdad until the training authorities and funding are restored.
"Centcom J5 and legal teams are reviewing other options to mitigate the loss of funding, as we continue to try to get authority into the final [National Defense Authorization Act]," a congressional source said, referring to the annual defense policy bill, which will probably be passed in December.
Hill aides also said that Congress's failure to reauthorize the OSC-I was part of the overall mess created by budgeting last minute through a CR, rather than through the regular appropriations process. The White House Office of Management and Budget submitted hundreds of requests for items to be added to the CR, but House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) wanted a bill with no "anomalies," so almost all of OMB's requests were rejected.
"The chairman believes that the most appropriate and best place to address these types of important issues is on the regular DoD appropriations and authorization bills, not short-term funding band-aids like a CR. This is why he will continue to push to get this critical legislation through the Congress as soon as possible," Rogers spokeswoman Jennifer Hing told The Cable.
The reauthorization of OSC-I is not the only thing Congress left of out of the CR that is giving the Pentagon headaches. The bill also failed to authorize completion of the prior-year shipbuilding program for the aircraft carrier CVN 71 overhaul. The Pentagon has told Congress if the authority to finish the work on this overhaul is not provided, the work will have to be suspended by January.
Congress also failed to extend authority for joint task forces to provide support to law-enforcement agencies conducting counterterrorism activities, which could halt the direct assistance of DOD personnel and funding of Treasury Department personnel working directly with the Afghanistan counternarcotics Police Technical Interdiction Unit.
UPDATE: Foreign Policy's E-Ring reports that the Joint Chiefs of Staff shifted $1.7 million to keep OSC-I running for an additional 90 days. "This is a temporary bridge," Pentagon Spokesman George Little said today. "The important thing is that we found the money."