The Pentagon is poised to have roughly 15,000 US troops in Afghanistan in the coming months, as defense officials on Wednesday finally acknowledged the actual number of American forces in the country after long camouflaging the total in misleading accounting measures and red tape.
Senior Defense officials for the first time said there are about 11,000 US forces currently deployed to Afghanistan – thousands more than the 8,400 that were allowed under the previous administration’s troop cap.
Military officials have long quietly acknowledged there were far more forces in the country than the cap allowed, but commanders shuffled troops in and out, labeled many “temporary,” and used other personnel accounting tactics to artificially keep the public count low.
The officials, however, refused to provide similar details for Iraq and Syria, where there also are thousands more than the Pentagon publicly admits.
Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said that while the same “principles of transparency” will apply in Iraq and Syria, those countries have their own interests.
There have long been political sensitivities within the Iraq government about the number of American troops on the ground, and those concerns raise questions about whether the Pentagon will be less candid about force numbers there to avoid conflicts.
Based on troop caps instituted by the Obama administration, the number of US forces in Iraq has consistently been reported as 5,262, but officials say there are actually more than 7,000.
And there are at least 1,500 US troops in Syria – three times the 503 that the Pentagon will acknowledge. White said details on troop numbers in Iraq and Syria would be announced in the future.
The troop numbers announcement comes as the Pentagon is preparing to deploy several thousand more Americans to Afghanistan, in order to expand the training and advising of Afghan forces and beef up counterterror operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked groups in the country.
Officials have said the US will send as many as 3,900 more troops to the war – which would bring the number of publicly recognized troops there to about 15,000. The officials were not authorized to discuss the future deployments publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said providing more truthful numbers “is an attempt to actually clarify a very confusing set of reporting rules that has the unintended consequence of forcing commanders to make readiness tradeoffs as they deploy their forces.”