The Pentagon announced there are actually 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, not the 8,400 number that has long been given out.
This could mean that with the president authorizing an additional 4,000 more U.S. forces to Afghanistan, the number could be as high as 15,000.
The new number was revealed Wednesday after the Pentagon announced it would provide more transparency on how it counts and discloses numbers of troops deployed, reversing a policy inherited under the previous administration.
“Secretary Mattis has directed the department to revise how it counts for deployed personnel carrying out major operations in Afghanistan. The secretary has made clear his commitment to transparency in public reporting procedures,” Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White said during a press briefing.
Under the previous administrations, the Pentagon only provided a partial count of troops — those deployed on a full-time basis, a number known as the “force management level.” That did not count hundreds or thousands more deployed on a “temporary” basis or fewer than 120 days.
White said that method supported “operational security,” but reduced unit readiness and transparency, White said.
For example, she said, commanders were “often compelled” to reduce the size of their deploying units in order to meet the force management levels, and limit the time that forces could remain in the country.
Commanders in the past have openly complained that the practice made their units less effective and forced them to rely on contractors overseas.
“This way of doing business is over,” White said.
She said the Pentagon would still protect sensitive units and “certain” temporary missions, but will continue to fully report those numbers to Congress in closed settings.
White also announced that the Pentagon is reviewing whether to disclose more transparent numbers for Iraq and Syria.
The current number in Iraq — according to the force management level — is 5,262, but there are at least hundreds more on a “temporary” basis. Similarly, there are 503 troops authorized for Syria, but an unknown number of additional temporary forces.
Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that commanders in Iraq and Syria were not happy with having to break up their units just to stay below the force management level.
“I think in both theaters, because of the force management caps we’ve been under. I don’t think either commander is completely satisfied with the nature of the units that they received, and this is an opportunity to try to redress that and deploy whole, organic units that are obviously going to be at a maximum state of readiness to the fight,” he said.