U.S.: 15,000 troops is goal in Afghanistan
Officials say about 11,000 are currently deployed in country.
The Pentagon is poised to have roughly 15,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the coming months, as defense officials Wednesday finally acknowledged the actual number of American forces in the country after long camouflaging the total.
Senior Defense officials for the first time said there are about 11,000 U.S. forces currently deployed to Afghanistan — thousands more than the 8,400 that were allowed under the previous administration’s troop cap.
Military officials have long quietly acknowledged there were far more forces in the country than the cap allowed, but commanders shuffled troops in and out of the country, labeled many “temporary” and used other personnel accounting tactics to artificially keep the count low.
The officials, however, refused Wednesday to provide similar details for Iraq and Syria, where there also are thousands more than the Pentagon publicly admits.
There have long been political sensitivities within the Iraq government about the number of American troops on the ground, and those concerns raise questions about whether the Pentagon will be less candid about force numbers there to avoid conflicts.
Based on troop caps instituted by the Obama administration, the number of U.S. forces in Iraq has consistently been reported as 5,262, but officials say there are actually more than 7,000.
And there are at least 1,500 U.S. troops in Syria — almost three times the 503 that the Pentagon will acknowledge.
The troop numbers announcement comes as the Pentagon is preparing to deploy several thousand more Americans to Afghanistan in order to expand the training and advising of Afghan forces and beef up counterterror operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked groups in the country.
Officials have said the U.S. will send as many as 3,900 more troops to the war — which would bring the number of publicly acknowledged troops there to about 15,000.
Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said providing more truthful numbers “is an attempt to actually clarify a very confusing set of reporting rules that has the unintended consequence of forcing commanders to make readiness tradeoffs as they deploy their forces.”
U.S. soldiers stand guard in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2009. U.S. officials say there are about 11,000 U.S. forces now deployed to Afghanistan — thousands more than the 8,400 allowed under the previous administration’s troop cap.