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Pentagon says 11k troops in Afghanistan in effort at transparency

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    A U.S. Army soldier oversees training for members of the 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2016.

WASHINGTON >> The United States has about 11,000 troops in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said today, acknowledging for the first time publicly that the total forces there are higher than formally disclosed in recent years.

Previously, Defense Departments officials have said that 8,400 troops were in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission. Another 2,000 U.S. forces that military officials have not publicly acknowledged are in Afghanistan to help local troops conduct counterterrorism missions.

The new count includes covert as well as temporary units, defense officials said.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the staff of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told reporters that military officials conducted a review in advance of a decision to send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan under President Donald Trump’s new strategy for conducting the war effort there.

Defense officials say they still expect to increase the troop numbers in Afghanistan by close to another 4,000 troops.

President Barack Obama ostensibly ended U.S. combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan during his time in office, but U.S. warplanes continued to target the Islamic State and the Taliban, and U.S. special operations forces advised local fighters on the ground.

Pentagon officials said Wednesday that they are now ready to be more transparent.

“The secretary has determined we must simplify our accounting methodology and improve the public’s understanding of America’s military commitment in Afghanistan,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. She added that “we owe the American people as much transparency as possible while still protecting sensitive information.”

Defense Department officials would not disclose the actual numbers of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria but said they planned to soon.

“I am pleased to see that as we prepare to execute a new strategy in Afghanistan, President Trump and Secretary Mattis have chosen to put the facts on the table,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in a statement. “It is important to be up front about the importance of the mission and what it takes to succeed.”

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