U.S. Says 2,000 Troops Are in Syria, a Fourfold Increase

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WASHINGTON — About 2,000 American troops are in Syria fighting the Islamic State, a Pentagon spokesman said on Wednesday, almost four times the total previously disclosed as the Trump administration changes how troop numbers are publicly counted.

The new total, ordered disclosed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, counts service members on temporary duty of six months or less who were not included in Obama-era totals. The 1,500 or so previously undisclosed troops in Syria include traditional combat forces like infantry, artillery and forward air controllers trained to call in airstrikes, as well as support personnel, said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman.

He called the previous public total of 503 an “artificial construct” that became increasingly inaccurate as the campaign against the Islamic State progressed.

Military officials said that the 2,000 personnel in Syria represented something of a high-water mark as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria winds down. The American-led coalition has retaken 97 percent of the territory once held by the militants, and the military is working to stabilize recently liberated areas, including the restoration of basic essential services, the removal of explosive materials and the distribution of humanitarian aid.

“The campaign to defeat ISIS is now in a new phase in Iraq and Syria,” Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

The updated figure does not reflect troops assigned to classified missions and some Special Operations personnel, Mr. Pahon said. The number also does not include combat aircrews flying from bases outside Iraq and Syria, nor from Navy aircraft carriers at sea.

Mr. Mattis directed the Pentagon months ago to revise how it accounts for deployed personnel fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon also announced revised troop numbers in Afghanistan in August, acknowledging publicly for the first time that about 11,000 troops were deployed there.

The numbers of American service members in Syria rose after a decision by President Trump in March to allow subordinate military commanders set the levels of troops they needed. But Colonel Manning said the number of troops in Syria “are generally trending downward,” and noted that an artillery battalion of 400 Marines deployed near Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, had recently returned to the United States.

Colonel Manning said troop numbers would continue to decline as the American-led coalition transitioned to missions to train and advise local forces.

The Pentagon also announced Wednesday that about 5,200 American troops are serving in Iraq. Colonel Manning said that total did not constitute a troop increase, but rather was a result of the change in the way troop numbers were accounted for and disclosed.

About 3,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Syria, mainly in a strip of land along the Euphrates River Valley south of Deir al-Zour, according to military estimates provided by Mr. Pahon.

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NYT > Middle East

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