The Pentagon recently revealed, at the order of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, there are about 11,000 U.S. service members stationed in Afghanistan.
Before the announcement, the Pentagon would only say there were approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan because of force level management orders from the Obama administration.
“This way of doing business is over,” White bluntly declared, adding, “We owe the American people as much transparency as possible.”
Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. and Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White emphasized the Obama-era policy negatively affected combat readiness in Afghanistan and lied to the American people about the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan .
The previous administration’s accounting policies hid the thousands of troops deployed on “temporary status” to help with ongoing U.S. and NATO missions. The new accounting procedure will still protect “sensitive” missions like special forces, McKenzie explained. Also, in order to remain under their force management level cap, the Obama-era policy forced commanders to deploy incomplete units to Afghanistan.
Mattis’s choice to reverse the policy is a major reverse of the Obama administration’s focus on troop numbers. The Obama administration capped troop levels in many U.S. military areas of operations and often highlighted troop numbers as a key part of its drawdown strategies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
White and McKenzie said the Pentagon would also make public the real number of forces stationed in Iraq and Syria after a full review. The number of forces in Afghanistan were probably revealed first in order to speed up decision making on how to put President Donald Trump’s new South Asia strategy into effect.
Trump revealed his strategy Aug. 21, stating that the U.S. would stay in Afghanistan for some time to help the Afghan National Security Forces in the war against the Taliban and to fight violent terrorist organizations like ISIS. Trump’s strategy will probably be accompanied by more troops in Afghanistan, along with a tougher diplomatic position on Pakistan.
Despite Aug. 22 comments coming from U.S. Central Command head Army Gen. Joseph Votel saying more forces would be in Afghanistan within “days or weeks,” McKenzie revealed that, as of Wednesday, no actual forces are in Afghanistan.
McKenzie also said that Mattis’s alteration of Pentagon policy will also allow for deploying whole units to Afghanistan if he decides he wants to, boosting combat readiness.
“Forces have been required to deploy that were not completely whole” under the previous policy he lamented, adding that commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are not satisfied with incomplete units.