Why Is the Pentagon Hiding the Number of Troops in Iraq and Syria?

It has been more than two years and 14,000 coalition bombings since President Barack Obama launched his open-ended war against ISIL under the dubious authority of a 15-year-old law authorizing military attacks. As the mission creeps to Libya, where military officials say there is “no end point” in sight, the Pentagon is refusing to disclose how many U.S. troops are currently deployed to Iraq and Syria.


The military does reveal the “force management level,” or full-time troops deployed to Iraq and Syria. According to a June 2016 statement from the White House, “The Force Management Level for U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq currently is 4,087. The Force Management Level for U.S. Armed Forces in Syria is 300.”

Yet, journalist Kristina Wong reported Thursday for the Hill that a Central Command spokesman acknowledged “that some troops that temporarily deploy aren't counted”—and this number could be far higher.

According to Wong’s reporting, defense officials are making the conscious choice not to reveal the final tally of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. "There's been a decision made not to release that number," spokesperson Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters in March. "The number that we release is our force management level... I don't have a reason for not releasing this number other than it's the orders that I'm under."

Since Warren made that statement, the Hill’s repeated requests for exact numbers have been rejected.

Any final tally of U.S. forces would have to include the droves of U.S. contractors in Iraq and Syria, exact number unknown. The Pentagon revealed in late July that Six3 Intelligence Solutions—which is now owned by CACI International—won a windfall $10 million no-bid contract from the Army for “intelligence services” in Syria. As Kate Brannen noted in the Daily Beast, “details are scant,” with the military refusing to disclose the most basic information about how many contractors will be deployed and what they will do.

CACI International faced global condemnation for its role in torturing and dehumanizing people held captive at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

According to Wong’s calculations, “the total amount of troops and Defense Department personnel involved in the [ISIL] fight could be anywhere from to 8,252 to 10,152.” This is well above the “FML” estimates officially provided by military officials.

The Obama administration is refusing to disclose other key information about the military campaign, including the numbers of civilians who are dying at the hands of U.S.-led forces. The Pentagon’s public estimates of civilians killed and wounded in its attacks fall well below the calculations of witnesses and journalists. According to the journalistic organization Air Wars, which monitors international bombings, a minimum of 1,568 civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition's war on ISIL.

Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet that “rather than attempting to obfuscate the number of U.S. troops in the Middle East, the Obama administration should deliver on its promises and withdraw all troops from Iraq and Syria. Having U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria is not something we should be proud of.”

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