The Pentagon pledged Monday to be as transparent as possible about how many troops are deployed overseas, after an agency published figures that diverge significantly from official counts.
According to a quarterly report from the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center, as of September 30 the US military had 15,298 troops in Afghanistan, 8,892 in Iraq and 1,720 in Syria.
The numbers -- especially for Iraq and Syria -- are sharply at odds with what the Pentagon has been saying for months.
Officially, the US military only has 503 troops in Syria and 5,262 in Iraq.
Those figures reflect what the military calls the “force management level” -- a legacy of the era of Barack Obama, who set strict limits on how many troops were on the ground in the Middle East.
The Pentagon found creative ways to stay within those notional limits -- even when troop deployments were clearly ramping up -- by not counting some short-term assignments and excluding certain categories of personnel.
When asked about the discrepancies, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said: “We are not at a point where we can make an announcement (on troop numbers) that differs from what we have previously stated.”
However, he pledged openness going forward on how many troops are deployed, echoing a similar pledge Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made this year.
“We are going to be as transparent as we can possibly be without telegraphing or silhouetting ourselves to the enemy and showcasing our capabilities to the bad guys,” Manning said.
Under President Donald Trump, battlefield commanders have been given greater flexibility to flow troops across the region, making it harder to track figures.
In Afghanistan, officials had previously said about 14,000 US troops were deployed in the war-torn nation.