A top military official on Monday said more than 4,000 U.S. troops are in Syria, then quickly retracted the figure when it was pointed out the Pentagon officially insists only 503 troops are deployed on the ground there.
“We have approximately ... I think it’s a little over 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria right now” supporting efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard told Pentagon reporters from Baghdad via satellite.
Jarrard — who heads the U.S.-led special operations task force responsible for defeating ISIS — quickly backtracked when asked to confirm the 4,000-troop figure.
“I’m sorry, I misspoke there, there are approximately 500 troops in Syria,” Jarrad said.
When pressed on the accuracy of the figure, the Pentagon spokesman running the briefing insisted the number was 503.
It’s known within defense circles that there are far more troops in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq than the Pentagon officially admits. Due to troop caps set by the Obama administration, the public troop count is kept artificially lower by moving forces around in the region and using specific personnel accounting methods.
Pentagon officials in August acknowledged that there are about 11,000 U.S. troops currently serving in Afghanistan — thousands more than what it had previously reported — but would not provide similar troop level details for Iraq and Syria.
Jarrad additionally said there are 5,262 troops in Iraq.