Pentagon reviewing how it counts troop numbers

The Pentagon is reviewing how it counts US troop numbers in Iraq and Syria, an official said Monday, as it moves from Obama-era troop limits that critics said were misleading.

Currently, the Pentagon provides “force management levels” that set limits on how many US troops are supposedly in each country.

Former president Barack Obama, who tried to end US involvement in Middle East conflicts, set relatively low numbers to avoid the impression America was getting dragged back into new wars.

In Iraq, the force management level is 5,262 and in Syria it’s 503.

But those numbers have become increasingly meaningless as commanders flow hundreds of extra “temporary” forces in to Syria and fill some military roles with contractors.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to see if the current method still makes sense, said Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

“We are looking at the whole construct for how we do force management levels and how we account for where our people are,” Davis told reporters.

In Syria, the actual number of American troops in the war-torn country is likely now between 800 and 900, a US defense official said, and the Pentagon is weighing additional deployments.

In Iraq, the 5,262 number doesn’t include certain military roles, troops on temporary deployments or numbers when incoming and outgoing units overlap.

To avoid hitting troop caps, the military has in some cases deployed helicopters but left their maintenance crews at home, leaving the work to be done by contractors.

Davis said the Pentagon is aware of complaints that the overreliance on contractors harms “unit cohesion” — bonding and tactical smoothness arising when an entire unit deploys together.

“That’s one of the issues we want to take a close look at to make sure we are not in any way harming our mission effectiveness,” Davis said.

According to Pentagon data, the Pentagon employs 3,592 contractors in Iraq, with a total of 45,549 across all of Central Command’s area of operations including Afghanistan.

Trump has said he wants to quicken the defeat of IS and told the Pentagon to come up with a range of plans that could accomplish that goal, including extra US forces.

“The war has evolved… you have to take a holistic view of the whole situation to see if changes need to be made,” a Pentagon official said.

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