Dayton program aims at reducing army ‘footprint’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. general directing training for Palestinian security forces said U.S. funds for the program would help reduce the IDF presence in the West Bank. 

Gen. Keith Dayton, addressing the annual Washington Institute for Near East Policy conference on Thursday, said the funds he is seeking for 2009 would be used “to explore options to reduce the IDF footprint,” referring to the Israel Defense Forces.

Dayton did not say how much he is seeking, but reports say it is $130 million — almost as much as the $161 million allocated to the program over the last two years. In its annual congressional lobbying blitz this week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urged lawmakers to sign on to letters that backed appropriations for the program.

Israeli security officials say the program has been a boon in maintaining order in Palestinian areas, but do not believe that its troops – so far numbering around 1,600– are equipped to confront terrorists. Dayton plans to use the U.S. funds to train another 1,500 troops.

The program is credited for helping to maintain quiet in the West Bank during Israel’s war in January with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. U.S. and Israeli officials believe that a security presence loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would boost his moderate message and help him face down Hamas’ challenge. 

The program so far operates in Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem and parts of Hebron. Dayton leads a team of U.S., British, Canadian and Turkish personnel. The training takes place in Jordan and is conducted by Jordanian police, with an emphasis on preserving human rights.

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