Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has directed the military to come up with a new reporting system that more accurately reflects how many military personnel are forward deployed, after admitting to frustration with what he's called the "very strange accounting procedure" used to count the number of U.S. troops in war zones.
Under the policy Mattis inherited from the Obama administration, the Pentagon has released only the upper limit for the number of troops authorized for various combat theaters, an artificial cap that did not count short-term deployments or rotational overlaps.
But while the policy help maintained the fiction of a smaller footprint in war zones, such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, it was an open secret the actual number of forces was actually higher.
"Secretary Mattis is committed to developing a more transparent accounting of our troops in the field than he inherited," said Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson in response to the Washington Examiner. White said a revised policy would be announced soon.
Under Obama, U.S. commanders were required to keep troop levels under caps, knows as force management levels, or FML.
That required various accounting tricks to get around the artificial caps, such as deploying a helicopter squadron without its usual complement of mechanics and maintainers, and then using more expensive private contractors to fill the gap.
The military might also move several hundred troops with a specific short-term mission in and out of the war zone on a "temporary," a deployment that was not counted against the cap.
Officials say the new system will provide a more accurate snapshot of how many U.S. troops are deployed at any given time, but will not announce troop increases or withdrawals until after the fact in order to avoid giving the enemy advance warning about U.S. war plans.
The review is part of the planning for the possible deployment of as many as 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, which Mattis says he will decide only after he has a clearer picture of the number of U.S. forces currently in the country.
"It's more, I found out, than what I've read in the newspaper when I got here," Mattis told reporters traveling with him last week.