The Pentagon revealed Wednesday, at the direction of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, there are approximately 11,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan.
Prior to the announcement, the Pentagon would only acknowledge approximately 8,400 troops accounted for under force management level orders from the Obama administration.
“This way of doing business is over,” White flatly declared, adding, “We owe the American people as much transparency as possible.”
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White and Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. emphasized the Obama-era policy affected combat readiness in Afghanistan and did not tell the whole truth as to the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to the American people.
The previous administration’s accounting policies did not disclose the thousands of troops deployed on “temporary status” to support ongoing U.S. and NATO missions. The new accounting procedure will continue to protect “sensitive” missions such as special forces, McKenzie explained. The Obama-era policy also forced commanders to deploy incomplete units to Afghanistan in order to remain under their force management level cap.
Mattis’s decision to reverse the policy is a major rebuke of the Obama administration’s emphasis on troop numbers. The Obama administration capped troop levels in several U.S. military areas of operations and frequently highlighted troop numbers as part of its drawdown strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
White and McKenzie said the Pentagon would also reveal the actual number of forces serving in Iraq and Syria after a thorough review. The number of forces in Afghanistan were likely revealed first in order to expedite decision making on how to implement President Donald Trump’s new South Asia strategy.
Trump revealed his strategy Aug. 21, emphasizing the U.S. would remain in Afghanistan for some time to support the Afghan National Security Forces in the fight against the Taliban and combat violent terrorist organizations like the Islamic State. Trump’s strategy will likely be accompanied by an increased number of troops in Afghanistan, along with a tougher diplomatic stance toward Pakistan.
Despite Aug. 22 comments from U.S. Central Command head Army Gen. Joseph Votel indicating more forces would arrive in Afghanistan within “days or weeks,” McKenzie revealed that no actual forces are in Afghanistan as of Wednesday.
McKenzie also explained that Mattis’s change of Pentagon policy will also enable the ability to deploy whole units to Afghanistan in the future if he decides to do so, boosting combat readiness.
“Forces have been required to deploy that were not completely whole” under the old policy he lamented, adding that neither commanders in Iraq or Afghanistan are satisfied with incomplete units.
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