INTERVIEW-Pentagon weighs US funding bill impact on terrorism fight

INTERVIEW-Pentagon weighs US funding bill impact on terrorism fight

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is scrambling to assess the impact of Congress' decision last week to approve only a third of the requested funding on the US counterterrorism fight in Syria and Africa, the department's budget chief said on Monday.

An appropriations bill approved on Saturday contained $1.3 billion (S$1.7 billion) of the $4 billion President Barack Obama sought for a new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund to counter al Qaeda affiliates in Africa and train Syrian moderates to fight Islamic State rebels.

"We got a lot less flexibility than we asked for. So we'll really need to dive in with our attorneys and figure out how ... would we actually implement this with less money and more restrictions," Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said in an interview.

He said Congress separately approved about $1.6 billion to help Iraqi forces battle Islamic State rebels.

McCord said the Pentagon initially thought it would use about $1 billion of the $4 billion fund for the Syria conflict, with about half going to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels and half going to help border states deal with spillover effects of the conflict.

"We had a variety of things that we had hoped to do both on the counter-ISIL (Islamic State) effort but also in Africa Command," McCord said, noting Africa had been a "real beneficiary" of the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund.

McCord said Syria would probably be the main priority after the reduction in spending authority because language in the bill prevented the Pentagon from using other money for that effort.

The Senate on Saturday gave final approval to a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill funding the government, including $577 billion for defence. The measure is expected to be signed by Obama soon.

McCord said the military service branches were reviewing that bill and the defence policy bill passed on Friday to determine whether they need to make last-minute changes in their 2016 budget plans, which will be released early next year.

McCord said he expected the Pentagon to ask Congress for more than the nearly $500 billion limit set for 2016 by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which called for the department to reduce projected spending by about $1 trillion over a decade.

Unless current law is changed, an appropriation of over $500 billion would lead to across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration to reduce spending to the level set by statute.

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