The United States has about 5,200 troops in Iraq and 2,000 in Syria, and those numbers are trending down, Pentagon officials said in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning announced the numbers in compliance with Defense Secretary James N. Mattis’ direction to give the American people a better idea of the commitment of U.S. forces in the region.
The officials arrived at the number using the same system used to quantify the troops in Afghanistan, Manning said.
“We seek to inform the American public with the imperative of operational security and denying the enemy any advantage,” Manning said.
“The secretary has been clear about improving our public reporting while increasing commanders’ ability to adapt to changing battlefield conditions to counter emerging threats,” the colonel said.
Iraqi forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated about 97 percent of the people and land that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria once claimed as the new caliphate, he said.
“The campaign to defeat ISIS is now in a new phase in Iraq and Syria,” Manning said.
This phase-shift will allow DOD to optimize force management practices and adapt to current Operation Inherent Resolve requirements. With the liberation, fewer U.S. forces are needed to support Iraqi and Syrian forces kinetically. An example of this was the withdrawal of a Marine artillery unit from Syria last week.
Train, advise, assist mission
Coalition forces are still needed in the two countries, but they will focus now on the train, advise and assist mission. “As the terrorist group continues to lose territory, important work remains to ensure its lasting defeat,” Manning said.
Coalition efforts will also shift to ensure the terror group cannot regenerate or to ensure another group doesn’t try to emulate ISIS and its hideous philosophy.
“The United States will continue necessary counterterrorism and stabilization effort,” the colonel said. “The United States will sustain a conditions-based military presence in Syria to combat the threat of insurgent-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS and to stabilize liberated areas.”
U.S. military personnel will also continue to support local forces in Syria to stabilize liberated territory. This includes restoring essential services, removing improvised explosive devices and booby traps and ensuring distribution of humanitarian aid. Allowing this to happen should set the conditions for refugees to return to their homes.
A solution to the Syrian civil war is the best way to ensure groups like ISIS do not take advantage of the chaos and confusion to impose their ideology, the colonel said.
“The United States also continues to support the Geneva-based political process … which is the only path to a legitimate political resolution to the conflict,” Manning said.
Russia and the Assad regime in Syria are interested in regime survival, not in defeating the terror groups that launched their hateful rule from Raqqa, the spokesman said. The Russians and Assad regime are not going after the Nusra Front or al Qaeda. “Their collective actions call into question their commitment to deal a lasting defeat to ISIS and other extremist groups,” the colonel said. “Nor do they appear to be serious about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias.”
Iraqi, Syrian and coalition forces will continue to capitalize on the momentum generated “and apply continuous pressure on the terrorist networks wherever they operate,” Manning said.