WASHINGTON – There are thousands more U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan than have been previously acknowledged, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
There are currently more than 11,000 U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan, whereas the Pentagon had previously reported only 8,400, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters at a press conference at the Pentagon.
Delivering a more transparent number was a priority for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, said Pentagon spokesman Dana White.
The higher number now accounts for temporary duty personnel, troops assigned to combat support agencies and other forces, including forces that are supporting counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, McKenzie said. Not all of those forces had been accounted for in the Pentagon’s previous official figure, known as the force management level.
The new figure still exempts some forces, including relief-in-place units who rotate in to replace a departing unit.
The improved transparency ”actually lets the American people know what their sons and daughters are doing in Afghanistan,” McKenzie said. “How many are there, and I think that’s a reasonable thing.”
“At the same time, it does protect” specific force information that could be used against forces on the ground, McKenzie said.
Going forward, the force management level will not be used, McKenzie said.
“We’re saying the number’s 11,000 today, and we’ll go up or down slightly based on the operational requirement. That’s the total forces that are in Afghanistan today. Should that number change, significantly, then we will come back in here to tell you,” McKenzie said.
The announcement comes as the Pentagon is weighing whether to send 3,900 more forces to Afghanistan to implement President Donald Trump’s revised strategy. Mattis has previously said he wanted to account for everyone on the ground before deciding how many more to send, McKenzie said.
No additional forces have been sent to date, McKenzie said,
However, the Pentagon has not provided the same updated troop count for Iraq or Syria. White said Wednesday those figures would eventually be provided. However, White said both of those countries had specific sensitivities that DoD was addressing as it worked to provide more transparency.
The existing force management level for Iraq is 5,262 and Syria is 503. However military officials have previously acknowledged that there are far more forces in both of those countries as well.
“Iraq and Syria are still under review. We think of every country differently,” White said.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry welcomed the more transparent numbers.
“I am pleased to see that as we prepare to execute a new strategy in Afghanistan, President Trump and Secretary Mattis have chosen to put the facts on the table,” Thornberry said. “The Obama administration did not shoot straight on how many people they sent to Afghanistan, which added cost to the mission and made it harder to succeed. It is important to be upfront about the importance of the mission and what it takes to succeed.”
Military Times’ correspondent Leo Shane III contributed to this report.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.