(CNSNews.com) – In the name of “transparency,” Defense Secretary James Mattis has directed the Defense Department to be more accurate about the number of deployed troops carrying out major operations in Afghanistan.
From now on, the troop count will include troops on temporary or short-duration missions, Pentagon Chief Spokesman Dana White told reporters on Wednesday.
That means the actual U.S. troop level in Afghanistan is approximately 11,000 — not the 8,448 troop cap authorized by the Obama administration in November 2016.
“To be clear, this is not an announcement of a troop increase,” White said. “We are simply being more transparent about the way we communicate America’s military commitment in Afghanistan, while still protecting sensitive information.”
He said the change “will help us enhance the trust the public has placed in the department.”
Under the Obama administration, military commanders sometimes had to reduce the size of deploying units or limit the time those units could spend in theater because they were obliged to stay within the pre-set troop level announced by the president.
“This way of doing business is over,” White said. “Today, the department will release a public approximate number to account for total forces in Afghanistan. As we have done in the past, we will still protect sensitive units and certain temporary missions. We will continue to fully report all forces to Congress in closed settings,” he added.
White said the same “guiding principles” will apply to the U.S. troop count in Iraq and Syria, which is currently under review. “When we’re ready to roll out those numbers, we will let you know,” White said.
The change in accounting methods will give military commanders the flexibility to deply “whole units” instead of units that have been fragmented to stay within an arbitrary troop cap. Pentagon officials told reporters that “whole units are inherently more prepared” to fight.
In a speech to the nation on Aug. 21, President Trump said he has changed his mind about a quick troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He announced a shift in strategy: “Conditions on the ground — not arbitrary timetables — will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will,” Trump said.
Trump in his speech refused to talk about troop numbers, but Defense Secretary James Mattis later hinted that a troop increase is in the works.
“There is a number that I’m authorized to go up to,” Mattis told reporters during an unannounced visit to Baghdad last week. “I’ve directed the (Joint Chiefs) chairman to put the plan together now. We’ve obviously been discussing this option for some time. When he brings that to me, I’ll determine how many more we need to send in,” Mattis said.
Press reports have speculated that Mattis may request an additional 3,900 troops for the mission in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, military officials at the Pentagon told reporters that Mattis has not yet made a decision on the anticipated troop increase.