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Pentagon Announces Troop Levels in Iraq, Syria
07 December 2017, 07:07 | Glen Norman
Pentagon Announces Troop Levels in Iraq, Syria
The U.S. military had as recently as November said the official troop count in Syria was 503. That number reflects the official 5,262 "force management level" previously reported by the Pentagon. Moments later, a Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, interjected in the same news conference that the number of USA troops actually was about 500, the number the Defense Department has long used for Syria.
The U.S. military plans to stay in Syria as long as necessary to ensure the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) does not return, a Pentagon official told AFP on December 5.
The Pentagon said the new public estimate still does not account for all US troops in Iraq and Syria.
Manning announced the new official figure for American servicemembers in Syria on Wednesday, saying Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to increase transparency about where and how troops are deployed. Gen. James B. Jarrard, told reporters during a news conference that there were about 4,000 US troops in Syria.
ISIS has lost about 97 percent of the land it once controlled across Syria and Iraq, Manning said Wednesday, but small pockets of fighters remain in both countries.
The military's "conditions-based" phrase to define troop commitments is in part a reaction to the administration of Barack Obama, which insisted on a calendar-based withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
United Nations -backed peace talks are ongoing in Geneva, and Pahon said the US continues to support these as the "only path to a legitimate political resolution to the conflict".
"The United States will sustain a "conditions-based" military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilise liberated areas".
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The U.S. troops are also focused on training local police forces, ensuring humanitarian aid can flow into areas where it is needed and ensuring local governance where U.S. -backed forces liberated land from ISIS, he said.
But with Syrian negotiators walking out on the UN-backed Geneva talks this week, the Pentagon offered its heaviest criticism of Russian-led military efforts in recent memory.
As troops enter a stabilization phase, U.S. officials said there will not be clear front lines as American troops support efforts to remove mines and other explosives, return displaced people to their homes and support the growth of indigenous institutions in former IS-held territory that hasn't been seized by President Bashar al-Assad - who has long called the United States presence illegitimate - or Russian and Iranian forces backing the embattled Syrian leader. "Their collective actions call into question their commitment to dealing a lasting defeat to [IS] and other extremist groups".
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.
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