-- Thousands more American troops are serving in Iraq and Syria than has been previously acknowledged by the Pentagon, a new report finds.
According to the Defense Manpower Data Center's quarterly report from September, there were 1,720 American troops in Syria -- three times as many as the 503 troops in Syria that U.S. military spokesmen have told reporters. The Pentagon's personnel agency issues quarterly reports about how many American troops are serving in individual states and overseas countries.
The same report showed there were 8,992 American troops in Iraq, almost 3,500 more than the official Department of Defense tally of 5,262.
The Pentagon downplayed the DMDC's personnel numbers were initial estimates for given locations, including short-term deployments and the rotation of American troops in a given country.
“The DMDC numbers are not the official deployment count, the numbers that we provided -- the approximately 500 in Syria and approximately 5,000 in Iraq is the official deployment count,” said Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman. “There are several other things that go into those numbers, it is a snapshot in time and have to also consider that number is quarterly ... our official deployment count has not changed."
Earlier this year Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered a review of the actual number of U.S troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria beyond the official maximum force levels authorized by the Obama administration. Only the troop numbers for Afghanistan have been publicly disclosed.
Manning said the Pentagon is not ready yet to provided updated U.S. troop numbers for Iraq and Syria. “Some of that is based on operational security, some is based on agreements with partners and allies," he said. “We’re not at a point where we can make an announcement that differ from the numbers we previously stated.
As recently as two weeks ago the Pentagon said there were about 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan, a reflection of the additional 3,900 American troops authorized by President Donald Trump in late August.
But the DMDC's troop numbers for Afghanistan in September indicated they were higher than the latest official count.
As of Sept. 30, the DMDC reported there were 15,282 American military personnel in Afghanistan along with 1,202 Defense Department civilians.
However, the agency's previous quarterly report from June indicated there were already about 12,000 American troops in Afghanistan, a significantly higher number than the official U.S. tally of 8,400.
"The data is meant to be just an initial estimate and starting point," a Pentagon official explained. "In addition to the permanently assigned personnel in a country, the data assisted in looking at the possible number of deployed personnel in an area."
That might include the possibility that some of the units were actually counted as deployed even though they were stateside preparing for their deployment.
It is unclear if the DMDC's reports for all the countries listed was fully accurate since there are some glaring discrepancies.
In the West African nation of Niger, for example, the Pentagon said there are 800 American in the country. The DMDC's personnel reports from March and June said the number of American troops in Niger was in the low teens.
In June, however, the White House's official notification to Congress under the War Powers Resolution indicated there were 645 American troops in Niger.