The White House left out the number of U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria from a semi-annual accounting it provided to Congress on Monday. In a previous report, sent to Congress in June, the administration had said how many Americans are in those war zones.
The omissions reflect President Trump’s eagerness to keep secret the size of U.S. deployments in some global hot spots under the theory that the numbers, no matter how vague, might give extremists and other enemies a strategic advantage, a senior administration official told Yahoo News. Military, congressional and even some other administration officials privately dispute that notion and say some transparency is necessary for informed debate about America’s use of force. It is unclear whether the administration detailed the figures to Congress in a classified addendum to the letter.
Oddly, the White House decision to omit the figures for Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria comes after the Pentagon, at the urging of Defense Secretary James Mattis, disclosed force levels for all three. In a late August briefing, officials said that roughly 11,000 troops were serving in Afghanistan, to be reinforced by another 3,000-4,000 under Trump’s new strategy for waging America’s longest war. And in early December, the Pentagon told reporters that 5,200 Americans were serving in Iraq and another 2,000 were in Syria. The latter marked a notable increase from the previously disclosed figure of 500.
The report goes to Congress every six months under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which lawmakers passed in an effort to make presidents more accountable for the deployment of U.S. troops in the wake of the Vietnam War. The June report, like others before it, disclosed the presence of some 645 U.S. military personnel in Niger, where months later an ambush left four Americans dead and set off a controversy in Washington, where some politicians claimed not to know about the American presence.
Six months ago, the White House’s letter disclosed 8,448 Americans serving in Afghanistan, 5,262 in Iraq, and 503 in Syria. The new version does not provide those figures or a reason for their omission.
Among the other changes from the previous letter, the administration now says that a “small number of United States military personnel” operate in Yemen against al-Qaida and ISIS. The prior report made no mention of U.S. forces on the ground there.
The June 2017 letter said some 2,850 American military personnel were deployed in Jordan; the number is now 2,300.
Lebanon was not mentioned six months ago. The new letter says that approximately 100 U.S. troops are there at the government’s request to shore up its counterterrorism capabilities.
The letter sent Monday says about 800 U.S. military personal are deployed in Niger, up from 645 six months ago. But where the previous letter noted that approximately 300 were in Cameroon, the new report notes a U.S. presence but omits a number. The June 2017 letter said some 410 American military personnel were in the Central African nations of Uganda, the Republic of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The new report omits those deployments.
The earlier report made no mention of the Philippines. The new one says an unspecified number of U.S. forces are “providing support to the counterterrorism operations of the armed forces” there.
In Egypt, the number of U.S. military personnel has dipped from 700 six months ago to about 400, according to the new letter.
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