A change in accounting for force management levels in Afghanistan allows U.S. officials to be more transparent in how many service members are in Afghanistan: There are 11,000, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the director of the Joint Staff, said today.
In a briefing for Pentagon reporters, White and McKenzie emphasized that this is not an increase in personnel assigned to the country and that the number does not include any new troops that may go to Afghanistan to implement President Donald J. Trump's new South Asia strategy announced last week.
Previously, Defense Department officials maintained that about 8,400 American service members were in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis directed the department to revise how it accounts for deployed personnel carrying out major operations in Afghanistan.
Commitment to Transparency
"The secretary has been clear about his commitment to transparency in our public reporting procedures and increasing commanders' ability to adapt to battlefield conditions and countering emergent threats," White said. "Following a comprehensive review of our South Asia strategy, the secretary has determined we must simplify our accounting methodology and improve the public's understanding of America's military commitment in Afghanistan."
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DoD's previous force management practice disclosed only forces under the force management level, not forces on temporary missions. "While this procedure supported operational security, it also reduced unit readiness and transparency," White said. "Often, commanders were compelled to reduce the size of deployed units in order to meet theater force management levels and limit the time that units could remain in operational theaters.
"This way of doing business is over," she added.
The new force management process allows openness and transparency with the American people and U.S. allies while avoiding giving information of use to an enemy, McKenzie said.
"We will characterize all forces necessary for the steady-state missions of train, advise, assist and counterterrorism as total forces," McKenzie said. "Included in total forces in Afghanistan will be the troops required for short-duration missions, which vary based upon operational conditions, but are not needed for the duration of the operation."
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This includes troops in a temporary duty status, those assigned to combat support agencies, and forces assigned to the material recovery element. It also includes service members with the Resolute Support sustainment brigade, the general said.
White and McKenzie said the Defense Department and the Joint Staff are working to apply the same standards to the force management levels for Iraq and Syria. As soon as those numbers are available, they will be released, White said.
"We all recognize that whole units are inherently more prepared, more ready, than units that are fragmented in order to meet an arbitrary force management level," McKenzie said. "So that's why we're going to have a little bit of flexibility in those numbers in order to … facilitate the deployment of whole units into the fight. That same principle will certainly apply … in Iraq and Syria, when those numbers are released."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)