WASHINGTON – The Pentagon, acknowledging that an accounting system for troops has underreported the size of the forces on the ground, is likely to announce that there are about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, two U.S. officials said on Friday.
The U.S. military has said it had around 500 troops in Syria, mostly supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces group of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting the Islamic State group in the north.
Two U.S. officials said the Pentagon could, as early as Monday, publicly announce that there are slightly more than 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. That is not an increase, just a more accurate count.
An accounting system known as the force management level was introduced in Iraq and Syria during former President Barack Obama’s administration as a way to exert control over the military.
But the numbers do not reflect the extent of the U.S. commitment on the ground; commanders often found ways to work around the limits — sometimes bringing in forces temporarily or hiring more contractors.
The force management levels are officially at 5,262 in Iraq and 503 in Syria, but officials have privately acknowledged in the past that the real number for each country is more than the reported figure.
The Pentagon said last December that it would increase the number of authorized troops in Syria to 500. It is not clear how long the actual number has been at around 2,000.
Obama periodically allowed more troops in Iraq and Syria as the fight against the Islamic State group advanced.
As that campaign winds down, it is unclear how many, if any, U.S. troops will remain in Syria.
Most of them are special operations forces training and advising local forces, including providing artillery support against Islamic State militants.
One of the officials said the actual number in Iraq is not expected to be announced because of “host nation sensitivities,” referring to political sensitivities about U.S. forces in Iraq.
In August, the Pentagon announced that there were 11,000 troops serving in Afghanistan — thousands more than it had previously stated.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has in the past expressed frustration with the method of counting U.S. troops in conflict zones.