The White House left out the number of U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria from a semi-annual accounting it provided to Congress on Monday. In a previous report, sent to Congress in June, the administration had said how many Americans are in those war zones.
The omissions reflect President Trump’s eagerness to keep secret the size of U.S. deployments in some global hot spots under the theory that the numbers, no matter how vague, might give extremists and other enemies a strategic advantage, a senior administration official told Yahoo News. Military, congressional and even some other administration officials privately dispute that notion and say some transparency is necessary for informed debate about America’s use of force. It is unclear whether the administration detailed the figures to Congress in a classified addendum to the letter.
Oddly, the White House decision to omit the figures for Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria comes after the Pentagon, at the urging of Defense Secretary James Mattis, disclosed force levels for all three. In a late August briefing, officials said that roughly 11,000 troops were serving in Afghanistan, to be reinforced by another 3,000-4,000 under Trump’s new strategy for waging America’s longest war. And in early December, the Pentagon told reporters that 5,200 Americans were serving in Iraq and another 2,000 were in Syria. The latter marked a notable increase from the previously disclosed figure of 500.
The report goes to Congress every six months under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which lawmakers passed in an effort to make presidents more accountable for the deployment of U.S. troops in the wake of the Vietnam War. The June report, like others before it, disclosed the presence of some 645 U.S. military personnel in Niger, where months later an ambush left four Americans dead and set off a controversy in Washington, where some politicians claimed not to know about the American presence.