Pentagon’s Concealment of Troop Levels Faces Mounting Criticism

Keeping Figures Secret Is Convenient for Leadership, Avoiding Debates

Alongside announcing the escalations of US wars in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon was given the decision of whether or not to inform the public about those troop levels. Unsurprisingly, this has so far meant no announcements at all.

President Trump followed that up with an announced escalation in Afghanistan last week, and once again insisted that exact troop levels would be secret from now on, because he doesn’t want “the enemy” to know. In both cases, concern about public oversight has been dismissed by officials.

But not by NGOs, with analysts increasingly concerned that the Pentagon is setting its own troop levels, and apart from negotiating with foreign governments, the American public is being kept totally in the dark on the final decisions.

This, in many cases, is a convenience for the Pentagon. 8,400 troops “officially” in Afghanistan on the day of Trump’s announcement was actually more like 12,000. The cap on troops in Iraq was already far exceeded before the escalation there as well.

Not making those figures public both prevents public debate on wars that are increasingly out of control, and makes negotiation with the foreign states hosting them easier, as in the case of Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi faces an election next year, and revealing how many troops he’s allowed in would be a political embarrassment, the sort that might have him blocking further escalations.

Instead, the troop levels are secret, and no one is the wiser. This means that officials can try to skirt the very real ramifications of their overseas deployments by simply not telling anyone how many troops are involved.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.