SitRep: More Troops in Afghanistan Than Pentagon Admits; Mattis Waiting on Afghan Plan
With Adam Rawnsley The scoop on troops. The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef finally got the Pentagon to admit something we all assumed: there are far more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than the government has said. There are actually 12,000 Americans serving in the country, and not 8,400, which has been ...
With Adam Rawnsley
The scoop on troops. The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef finally got the Pentagon to admit something we all assumed: there are far more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than the government has said. There are actually 12,000 Americans serving in the country, and not 8,400, which has been the official number since the Obama administration.
The practice of muddying the truth about deployments began under Obama, and has continued under the Trump administration. The Pentagon has said it will only count the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who are there on long-term deployments, and not those on “temporary” deployments that only last a few months.
There are 5,262 U.S. troops authorized to be in Iraq, and another 503 in Syria, but it is generally understood that there are at least 6,000 troops in Iraq at any given time, and around 1,000 in Syria.
President Trump has signed off on a larger deployment to Afghanistan of around 4,000 troops, which would bring the total to around 16,000.
Trump and Biden, likeminded leaders? Trump’s plan to keep the U.S. troop count in Afghanistan (relatively) low, and focus on counterterrorism has a precedent. It sounds a lot like former VP Joe Biden’s plan that was rejected by president Obama and the Pentagon back in 2009.
Where’s the plan? Traveling in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters he’s waiting to see the final Afghanistan plan. “I’d rather not say a number [of troops] and then have to change it later on,” he cautioned. “Let me look at the plan that the military brings me. We’ve given them the strategic goals. They now have to line up the different things they have to do, and assign troops to each one of those efforts. Once I see that, look at the number we have on the ground, reorganize those on the ground to align with the new strategy, and then bring in whatever gap-fillers I need.”
But…Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, says the first deployments of new U.S. forces will arrive in Afghanistan “pretty quickly.” He estimates it could be days or few weeks. He told reporters traveling with him in the Middle East that “what’s most important for us now is to get some capabilities in to have an impact on the current fighting season.”
Navy takes action. The U.S. Navy has relieved Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, head of the 7th Fleet, “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the service announced early Wednesday morning. The move comes days after the second deadly mishap in two months in the Pacific, when the USS John S. McCain was rammed by an oil tanker, leading to the death of as many as 10 sailors. In June, seven sailors were killed when the USS FItzgerald was struck by a cargo ship. More here from FP on what the loss of the two ships for an extended period of time means for the Navy.
Trump threatens aid to Pakistan that has been falling anyway. In the wake of the president’s speech Monday in which he threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan unless it takes a more forceful approach to combating terrorism, FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce took a look at the numbers, and found that Washington’s annual economic and security assistance to Islamabad had been falling anyway.
Assistance peaked at more than $3.5 billion in 2011, “but the Obama administration and Congress steadily scaled back aid for Pakistan since then, with funding falling below $1 billion.” The U.S. still holds plenty of leverage over Islamabad when it comes to arms transfers, but Pakistan has managed to push through previous downturns in aid before.
Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Nobody puts Baby in a corner. China leapt to the defense of Pakistan, a close ally, following President Trump’s announcement of his new Afghanistan strategy on Monday night, saying that “We believe that the international community should fully recognize Pakistan’s anti-terrorism.” Meanwhile, Vice President Pence echoed Trump’s rhetorical pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting militants, placing them alongside North Korea and Iran in the administration’s vaguely-defined but growing category of countries “on notice.”
Same old same old. The Taliban predictably panned Trump’s strategy, warning that “The Afghan Mujahid nation is neither tired nor will it ever get tired in pursuit of winning their freedom and establishing an Islamic system.”
Quote of the day: “I worry about his access to nuclear codes.” — former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking about President Trump on CNN after the president’s combative rally in Arizona Tuesday evening.
Full commitment. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Trump’s strategy by saying the alliance “remains fully committed to Afghanistan,” a statement backed up by a warm reception for the new course from the U.K. and Germany.
Sanctions. The U.S. is once again ratcheting up the pressure on North Korea and the people who do business with it, with the Treasury Department sanctioning 10 companies and half a dozen people from China and Russia for their alleged commerce with the North. The Justice Department. One of the companies sanctioned by Treasury on Tuesday is allegedly part of a money laundering operation run by a Chinese national living in Long Island, New York. Prosecutors obtained a surveillance warrant against Sun Sidong, the head of company believed to be illegally trading in North Korean coal.
Still mad at THAAD. China is still mad at South Korea for hosting a U.S. anti-missile system and it’s still sticking it to the company that let the South Korean government host it on a golf course. The South China Morning Post reports that Chinese authorities seized equipment from grocery stores owned by the Lotte Group, which offered up land to host the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea that so annoys Beijing.
Reconnaissance. Tensions are high between India and China amid a continuing border dispute that has seen scuffles between troops from both countries. But recent satellite imagery of a Chinese air base in the region shows that at least so far Beijing doesn’t seem to expect a major clash, with little to no sign of increased deployment of military aircraft.
Iran. Iran’s top nuclear official says his country could start enriching uranium up to 20 percent in just five days if the nuclear deal between the U.S. and Tehran goes up in smoke. Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters said Iran intends to abide by the agreement and won’t “let it go easily,” but his comments follow comments from President Trump suggesting the U.S. will refuse to certify Iranian compliance with the agreement.
Boko Haram. The Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram terrorist group in West Africa used four times as many child suicide bombers in 2017 thus far than in all of 2016.
Old friends. The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to label WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” in order to loosen surveillance rules against the group and its affiliates. Legislation being pushed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) would also require the Trump administration to submit periodic reports on Russian influence operations targeted at the United States.
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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