The Pentagon said Wednesday that roughly 2,000 U.S. combat troops are in Syria, a four-fold increase over the previously reported troop levels that were widely, if not publicly, acknowledged to be phony.
The announcement comes three months after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised more accurate, but still approximate, numbers of U.S. troops in harm’s way, after he discovered the force management level reporting policies intentionally undercounted the number of troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Until this point, the Pentagon had said 503 troops were in Syria.
In August, the Pentagon clarified that 11,000 U.S. troops were in Afghanistan, not the 8,400 reported by the Obama administration.
Wednesday’s announcement also revealed that some 5,200 U.S. troops are in Iraq, an increase of 200 over the number reported just last week.
“To be very clear, this is not an announcement of a troop increase in either Iraq or Syria,” said Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman. “We are simply revising how we internally conduct force management and publicly report the U.S. force commitment in Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon is coming clean on the actual number of U.S. troops in Syria as the fighting against the Islamic State is winding down.
The new numbers are approximate and do not reflect the number of U.S. forces in Syria at the peak of the fighting.
That number was undoubtedly higher, given that 400 Marines who were providing artillery support for the assault on Raqqa were withdrawn last week.
The Pentagon has not disclosed the peak number, but says the number of troops in Syria will continue to come down as the U.S. transitions to more of a stability operation that requires more trainers and advisers, and less combat support.
Last week, Mattis told reporters traveling with him to the region that the U.S. would make good on President Trump’s promise to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop arming the Kurdis YPG militia, a group Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
Mattis said offensive combat forces such as the YPG won’t be needed, and instead the U.S. would be backing local forces that can provide stability.
“We're going to go exactly along the lines of what the president announced,” Mattis said, “You need security. You need police forces. That's local forces. That's people who make certain that ISIS doesn't come back.”
“The United States will sustain a conditions-based military presence in Syria to combat the threat or terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS and to stabilize liberated areas,” Manning told reporters at the Pentagon. “The U.S. military will continue to support local partner forces to stabilize liberated territory.”