As ISIS retreats, US is set to reveal troop numbers in Syria

The US currently has approximately 2,000 troops in Syria on an ongoing basis, mainly special operations forces, according to several defense officials.

Publicizing the number of US troops in Syria has been a sensitive matter for months, due to security concerns. But as coalition fighters have gained more ground from ISIS, and there has been more congressional pressure for transparency, the Pentagon is preparing to discuss the numbers more openly in the coming days, officials say.

Defense Secretary James Mattis had indicated he was working on a policy to openly acknowledge the approximate number of troops deployed but would not be unduly specific.

Underscoring the confusion about how many troops are deployed to fight ISIS, the Pentagon had for months said only about 500 troops were in Syria. Then a recently published manpower statistics report publicly available on the Pentagon website said there were 1,547 troops there.

Adding to the confusion, officials say the DOD manpower report is not as accurate as it should be because it may include troops who are in the country for very short periods of time, or units that are about to leave.

However, there are still concerns about being too specific about where US units are located, or how many troops are in particular locations because of the security risks and fears the information might provide clues about their weapons and military capabilities.

Officials note that US ground and aviation units routinely have to “deconflict” with Russian forces about where they are all operating in Syria. Russian and Syrian regime units are increasingly operating in eastern and southeastern Syria in areas where US units may be located.

There are similar concerns in the Pentagon about revealing the precise numbers of forces in Iraq. US officials say the number of troops in Iraq is more than 5,000 but that number is not as high as the 7,402 recently listed in the Pentagon manpower statistics report.

US officials have long said one of the ongoing concerns about revealing too much about the numbers in Iraq is that it puts pressure on the country’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, who is trying to portray a minimal US presence in his country to Iran and Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq.