‘Pentagon may mask real troop number in Syria, Iraq to avoid outcry from war-weary public’

The American public is exhausted by wars. However, the US has a lot of generals who would be more prone to pursuing military solutions or having a military build-up in the foreign countries, says Middle East analyst Ali Rizk.

The US could have more forces in Syria and Iraq than it has previously admitted, according to data provided by the US Defense Manpower Data Center. Its latest report suggests there are 1,720 US soldiers in Syria, while Defense Department spokespeople have previously referred to only 503.

And for Iraq, the number provided by the Manpower Data Center in more than 3,000 higher than the figure often quoted by officials. However, the Pentagon said the numbers provided by the DMDC’s were initial estimates, including short-term deployments and the rotation of American troops.

RT discussed the DMDC’s figures with Middle East analyst Ali Rizk.

RT: What could explain this discrepancy in the numbers? 

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US soldiers drive a military vehicle on the road connecting al-Rai town to Azaz city, northern Aleppo countryside, Syria © Khalil Ashawi

Ali Rizk: It is quite possible the real numbers are higher than the official numbers which are given by the US officials. You have to bear in mind – before the killing of four US troops in Niger, many people didn’t know that the US actually had forces in that country. Bearing that in mind, one wouldn’t be surprised to know that the real numbers of US troops in Iraq, in Syria, or elsewhere in the Middle East would be higher given the fact that this US troop presence in Africa, Niger and elsewhere in the African continent, wasn’t known. What also could make it quite possible that the real numbers are higher than what is being announced – is the fact that you have generals, many of Trump’s closest associates, members of his cabinet, they are military men, General McMaster, General James Mattis, John Kelly, they would be prone to send higher number of military personnel abroad. At the same time, the US public probably wouldn’t receive that kind of deployment very well and would probably raise its objections which would require from Trump administration to maybe hide these facts and to increase the true presence without actually announcing it. So, [given] all these factors, it could be quite possible that we indeed do have larger numbers than what is being heard about.

RT: This wouldn’t be the first time the US has been unclear about its troop numbers in Iraq and Syria. Why does the Pentagon apparently want to give the impression it has fewer troops than it really does in the region?

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FILE PHOTO: US troops sit atop an armoured vehicle on a road near the northern Syrian village of Ain Issa © Delil Souleiman

AR: It is related to what I would call the post-Iraqi and Afghani war syndrome. It is similar to the situation we had in the aftermath of the American war in Vietnam. The same thing, the American public is exhausted, it is against any increase in troop presence. And I think the Pentagon is very intent on keeping this message that it has a low level of troop presence in order not to lead to an outburst or an outcry from an American public which as I said would be very war-weary and would be very much objected to increased American presence… At the same time, we do have a lot of generals who want to increase, who would be more prone to pursuing military solutions or having military build-up in the foreign countries.        

RT: Do you expect the US to leave a certain number of troops in the region when the battle against Islamic State is over?

AR: Yes, I do. In fact, Secretary of Defense James Mattis even said very clearly that after ISIS is defeated that doesn’t mean [the US] will pack and leave. America will maintain its presence. There are clear voices inside the US administration, including Mattis himself and some others, who basically say that the US can’t leave Syria under the “Russia – Iranian presence” because that would mean the US has lost the game to Russia and to Iran. And if you take that mindset of some American officials into consideration, it is indeed very far-fetched that American will pack and leave after ISIS is defeated. Maybe, Trump himself personally would like to do that, but I doubt that he will be able to confront the pressure from the establishment and particularly from his military advisers, like Mattis and like McMaster.

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