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Here's how many troops are really in Afghanistan. It's more than you think.

The Pentagon has reported that there are thousands more troops serving in Afghanistan than previously told. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The story

The Pentagon reported Wednesday that thousands more U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan than officials had previously reported.

Pentagon officials announced Wednesday that approximately 11,000 troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, significantly more than the 8,400 previously reported. There has not yet been an increase in troops; the discrepancy was revealed through a change in the method of counting troops.

Reuters reports that previously disclosed troop numbers omitted temporary forces that were brought in to circumvent limits imposed by former president Barack Obama.

Dana White, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the troop numbers for Iraq and Syria are currently under review. Right now the official tally is 5,262 in Iraq and 503 in Syria, and both numbers could be thousands off from the true tallies.


Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director: “This is not an attempt to bring more forces in, but it is an attempt to actually clarify a very confusing set of reporting rules that has the unintended consequence of forcing commanders to make readiness trade-offs. So what it does is, it actually lets the American people know what their sons and daughters are doing in Afghanistan.”

Mac Thornberry, Republican chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee: “The Obama Administration did not shoot straight on how many people they sent to Afghanistan, which added cost to the mission and made it harder to succeed.”


The troop caps set during the Obama administration (and accepted by the Trump administration) have been a source of frustration for military commanders in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, some of whom view the caps as arbitrary.

As a result of the caps, units sometimes have to be broken up to fit, and thousands of troops get sent on temporary assignments to fill holes because Pentagon leaders don't count those troops against the cap.

This revision in troop accounting comes from Defense Secretary James Mattis, who needs accurate numbers in order to make a recommendations on troop increases in Afghanistan, which President Trump announced last week.

A recent POLITICO poll showed that 45 percent of voters support a troop increase in Afghanistan, while 41 percent oppose. 14 percent had no opinion.

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