The Pentagon on Wednesday acknowledged that there are about 11,000 U.S. troops currently serving in Afghanistan, thousands than what it had previously reported.
Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White made clear that the new number does not represent an increase in troops in the country. In the past, the Pentagon has said there were roughly 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, a cap set during the Obama administration.
The new number, White said, came after Defense Secretary James Mattis reversed the previous method of counting troops, which excluded shorter missions and partial-unit deployments, among other factors.
“These changes will help us enhance the trust the public has placed in the department,” White told reporters at the Pentagon.
The new total is only approximate — for “operational security” reasons, according to Joint Staff Director Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie Jr., who spoke alongside White.
White declined to provide similar troop level details for Iraq and Syria, where there are also thousands troops serving than the Pentagon publicly acknowledges.
“Each operational theater is different, and we have to consider different concerns,” White said. “We are reviewing Iraq and Syria, and the same guiding principles will govern how we roll out those numbers.”
It’s known within defense circles that there are far troops in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq than the Pentagon officially admits. Due to the Obama-era troop caps, commanders artificially keep the public troop count lower by moving forces around in the region and using specific personnel accounting methods.
Following the announcement, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) applauded what he said was a decision by the White House and Pentagon to “put the facts on the table.” He also took a swipe at the previous president.
“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,” he said in a statement. “It is important to be upfront about the importance of the mission and what it takes to succeed.”
The Pentagon is now preparing to send roughly 3,900 additional U.S. troops to help end the 16-year conflict in Afghanistan, after President Trump earlier this month announced he will not withdraw U.S. troops from the country.
The administration has declined to say how many troops it would send.