The Department of Defense provided a revised count on the number of US soldiers participating in the Syrian Civil War—one that’s drastically higher than numbers provided just a month ago.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, Army spokesman Col. Rob Manning pegged the troop deployment number in Syria at roughly 2,000, and added: “it could be more, could be less.”
That’s four times the number of deployed US soldiers that the Pentagon previously copped to last November. Officials did, however, acknowledge a few weeks ago that its accounting system had misreported the size of the contingency in Syria.
The 2,000 number may also be an understatement since the Defense Department doesn’t include short-term deployments and private contractors in their official force management figures. It’s also unknown for just how long US troops have numbered in the thousands in Syria.
“We don’t want to showcase our capabilities to the enemy,” Manning went on to say on Wednesday, defending the military’s decisions to not provide timely and specific force level numbers.
US boots on the ground in Syria are part of a coordinated campaign against extremist rebel groups affiliated with the Islamic State. The Pentagon has been conducting airstrikes in the country on a regular basis since 2014. At times, those strikes have also targeted Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration have justified military intervention in Syria under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. The law was passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to provide the president with approval for military operations in Afghanistan against the perpetrators of the attacks.
The authorization has since been stretched to justify US bombing in several countries, including Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and now Syria.
So far the US military’s commitment to Syria appears open-ended.
“We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups,” a Pentagon official told AFP on Tuesday.
According to the Pentagon’s official force level numbers, there are also 5,262 US soldiers in Iraq and more than 11,000 troops in Afghanistan.