The Pentagon revealed Wednesday that roughly 11,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, 2,600 more than the U.S. military had previously disclosed to the public.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White and Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director of the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, blamed the significant undercount on head-counting rules the Obama administration had devised.
The Obama-era policies did not include troops deployed for less than six-months -- a stint the military considers a “temporary basis” -- as part of the military’s total for Afghanistan. Because the Obama administration had set caps on the number of troops allowed to be deployed to active war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, U.S. commanders found ways to supplement their forces by “temporarily” adding additional troops who would not be counted.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis expressed frustration with the approach and ordered a comprehensive review to give a more accurate picture of the U.S. military footprint, following last week’s announcement by President Trump of a new military strategy in Afghanistan.
“The secretary has been clear about his commitment to transparency in our public reporting procedures and increasing commanders’ ability to adapt to battlefield conditions in countering emergent threats,” White told reporters at the Pentagon.
“Following a comprehensive review of our South Asia strategy, the secretary has determined we must simplify our accounting methodology and improve ... the public’s understanding of America’s military commitment in Afghanistan.”
The new policies “will balance informing the American people, maintaining operational security and denying the enemy any advantage,” White said, adding that the Pentagon is also reviewing its practices for disclosing troop numbers in Iraq and Syria.
“The fight is different in Iraq and Syria than it is in Afghanistan,” McKenzie said. “But in both theaters, eventually we’ll apply the same two pillars: balancing transparency of reporting with a requirement to protect the forces on the ground"
The Pentagon is still examining how many additional troops to deploy to join the 11,000 U.S. and 5,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops now in Afghanistan. The U.S. and allied militaries train and advise Afghan security forces as they seek to quell a resurgent Taliban, Islamic State militants and other militias that have kept much of the country at war.
Trump has given Mattis the authority to send up to 4,000 more troops to the battlefield. U.S. warplanes already have stepped up the Afghan war, dropping 1,984 bombs and missiles so far this year -- more than twice as many as in the same period a year ago, according to Air Force statistics.