US troops in Afghanistan number 1,000 more than disclosed

As US President Joe Biden’s administration wrestles with whether to extend troop presence in Afghanistan or withdraw by May 1 as per the deal with the Taliban, officials have said there are in fact more American troops on the ground than the reported 2,500.

According to the New York Times, officials, both American and Afghan, have said the number is actually around 3,500. That’s 1,000 more than Washington has disclosed.

According to the Times, the “cloudy accounting” around troops numbers results from some Special Forces units having been put “off the books”.

According to a senior US official, the presence of some temporary and transitioning units also accounted for the additional troops.

A second official told the Times that these troops 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, the Times reported.

According to the report, the United States often details military troops to the CIA or other agencies, declares that information “classified” and refuses to publicly acknowledge their presence.

The Times reported that as a result of this practice, last year, as former President Donald 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, U.S. officials said.

The Times reported that the Obama administration used similar tactics, under the 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 for Trump, the Times reported.

“To some extent, the fudging of the numbers reflects the arbitrariness of political fixation on declaring specific numbers.”

The report stated that officially, the Pentagon insists that troop numbers are lower. “We are still at 2,500” in Afghanistan, Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email to The New York Times on Friday.