WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Wednesday that there are about 2,000 troops in Syria — four times the number previously acknowledged. As recently as last month the Pentagon said there were 503 U.S. troops in Syria.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning also said there are about 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq. That number reflects the official 5,262 “force management level” previously reported by the Pentagon.
“This is not an announcement of a troop increase in either Iraq or Syria. We are simply revising how we internally conduct force management and publicly report the U.S. force commitment in Iraq and Syria,” said Manning.
The Defense Department under Secretary Jim Mattis had promised to provide more accurate estimates of U.S. troops stationed abroad. The department had previously omitted forces on temporary rotation from the count, along with a number of other groups.
The Pentagon said the new public estimates still do not account for all U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
“It still excludes certain sensitive missions and certain personnel,” said spokesman Eric Pahon, after being asked if the count includes U.S. troops that “enable” local partner forces.
Manning noted that troop counts in both countries are “trending downward” as the conflict against ISIS takes on a “new phase,” with the extremist group holding less than three percent of the territory it once controlled in both countries. Manning said this new phase presents an opportunity to refine how the department reports troop counts to the public.
Manning could not immediately say how many U.S. troops were in Syria at its peak level.
Last week the Pentagon announced that 400 Marines who had been providing artillery support for the offensive on the former ISIS capital city of Raqqa would return to the U.S. These 400 Marines are not included in the 2,000 troop count.
Repeating previous statements from defense officials, Manning said that the U.S. is taking a “conditions-based” approach to the conflict against ISIS in Syria and is working with local partner forces to restore basic utilities and stand up local governments and police forces.
“We will be in Syria as long as it takes to make sure ISIS does not have the ability to reestablish safe havens… and plan and conduct attacks,” said Manning, including that the 70-nation U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition is committed to the effort.
He reiterated U.S. support for the U.N.-led talks in Geneva peace talks. He said the Syrian regime and Russian actions have “demonstrated that countering ISIS and other extremist groups like Nusra Front and al-Qaeda is not their foremost priority. Their collective action call into question their commitment to deal a lasting defeat to ISIS and other extremist groups.”
“They also do not appear to have a plan for how to bring a meaningful conclusion to the civil war that addresses the fundamental problems that led to the rise of ISIS. Nor do they appear to be serious about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias,” said Manning.
He said Russia has done little to fight ISIS. He said the U.S.-led coalition would continue to apply “continuous pressure on the terrorist networks wherever they operate.”