US Has 1,000 More Troops in Afghanistan Than It Disclosed
TEHRAN (FNA)- Facing a high-stakes choice and running out of time to make it, the administration of President Joe Biden is wrestling with whether to follow through with a full withdrawal in the next seven weeks of the 2,500 American troops still in Afghanistan — except, as it turns out, that number is actually around 3,500.
The United States has about 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan than it has disclosed, according to US, European and Afghan officials. That adds another layer of complexity to the swirling debate at the White House over whether to stick with a deal, struck by the Trump administration and the Taliban, that calls for removing the remaining American forces by May 1, The New York Times reported.
A thousand troops may seem like a small number compared to the roughly 100,000 who were there at the height of the war. But the scope of the US presence has become a contentious issue in Afghanistan — where the Taliban want the Americans gone, while the government’s beleaguered security forces rely on US air support — and also in Washington.
Members of Congress have repeatedly called for an increase in troops if the United States decides to stay past the withdrawal date outlined in the agreement, which was reached just over a year ago.
The cloudy accounting around the troop numbers results from some Special Operations forces having been put “off the books”, according to a senior US official, as well as the presence of some temporary and transitioning units.
These troops, according to a second US official, include Joint Special Operations Command units, some of them elite Army Rangers, who work under both the Pentagon and the CIA while deployed to Afghanistan.
Having more troops in a country than the Defense Department officially acknowledges is common practice. From Syria to Yemen to Mali, the United States often details military troops to the CIA or other agencies, declares that information “classified” and refuses to publicly acknowledge their presence.
So last year, as former President Donald J. Trump pushed for rapid troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, the Defense Department and other national security agencies used familiar methods to move numbers around, which made troop levels seem to be dropping faster than they really were. It was comparable to what happened in 2019, when Trump wanted to pull forces from Syria, US officials said.
The Obama administration used similar sleights of hand under the bland, bureaucratic term “force management levels”, which resulted in more troops in war zones with little public oversight.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” said Laurel E. Miller, a former top State Department official who worked on Afghanistan and Pakistan diplomacy for former President Barack Obama and forTrump.
“To some extent, the fudging of the numbers reflects the arbitrariness of political fixation on declaring specific numbers,” Miller added.