US Says 2000 Troops Are in Syria, a Fourfold Increase
Dec 07 2017 by Desiree Burns
The U.S. military had as recently as November said the official troop count in Syria was 503.
Manning said Wednesday that it took weeks for the Pentagon to release the new official number because military officials wanted to make sure that it was right.
"While the nature of U.S. support to partner forces will adjust as the coalition shifts from from major urban combat operations to stabilization tasks, United States support will not end until the enduring defeat of ISIS and will be determined by conditions on the ground", Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said in a written statement Tuesday outlining the USA strategy in Syria going forward.
The Pentagon says there are roughly 2,000 USA troops in Syria, quadruple the number US officials had acknowledged until now. That number is now at closer to 14,000 after the Pentagon sent roughly 3,000 additional USA troops to help end the 16-year conflict in Afghanistan. He said he was doing so as part of a new effort by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to be transparent about how many troops are deployed in harm's way.
Meanwhile, the United States-led worldwide coalition fighting ISIL estimates that fewer than 3,000 fighters belonging to the militant group remain in Iraq and Syria, its spokesman said on December 5.
ISIS has lost about 97 percent of the land it once controlled across Syria and Iraq, Manning said Wednesday, but small pockets of fighters remain in both countries.
In his statement Tuesday, Pahon criticized Russian Federation and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as impediments to stabilizing the situation there, saying that countering ISIS, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups is not of the "foremost priority" of Russian Federation and Syria.
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"It still excludes certain sensitive missions and certain personnel", said spokesman Eric Pahon, after being asked if the count includes USA troops that "enable" local partner forces.
The actual number of troops has been in decline for months. Manning said this new phase presents an opportunity to refine how the department reports troop counts to the public. Last week, about 400 Marines in an artillery unit - 1st Battalion, 10th Marines - that was carrying out strikes against the Islamic State in the city of Raqqa returned to the United States.
United Nations -backed peace talks are ongoing in Geneva, and Pahon said the USA continues to support these as the "only path to a legitimate political resolution to the conflict".
Repeating previous statements from defense officials, Manning said that the U.S.is taking a "conditions-based" approach to the conflict against ISIS in Syria and is working with local partner forces to restore basic utilities and stand up local governments and police forces.
Despite recent reports suggesting that U.S. support for the SDF would be curtailed, Pahon said the United States would work with the SDF and other local forces on the ground to transition to a "sustainable, self-sufficient, ethnically diverse local security forces", while also promoting "inclusive governance" that is representative of local communities liberated from ISIS rule. "Their collective actions call into question their commitment to dealing a lasting defeat to [IS] and other extremist groups".
"ISIS left a minefield when they started walking out", he said. "Nor do they appear to be serious about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias", said Manning.