While Americans vigorously support and stand behind their armed forces, many citizens are not aware of where troops are stationed and why they are there. Deployment statistics are released by the Pentagon but numbers given by spokespeople don’t always match up to the actual reports.
In regard to troops deployed to fight ISIS, the new administration has been rather hush hush on the subject. Under the Obama administration, Pentagon policy was to announce conventional deployments after they occurred. That’s now changed, according to Pentagon officials. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has pledged greater transparency on the question of troop numbers. But the latest report points to inconsistencies that still exist. For example, according to an NPR article from December 2017, Pentagon spokespeople often cite a figure of around 500 U.S. forces in Syria. But the Pentagon report on manpower puts the number at 1,720. And in Iraq, Pentagon officials generally put the number of U.S. forces at around 5,000. However, the official report puts it at 8,892.
This inconsistency in transparency continues to be a trend. On October 4, 2017, four U.S. troops were killed in an ambush in the African nation of Niger, a deployment the U.S. military has acknowledged but doesn’t discuss in detail. The U.S. officially had 546 troops in Niger at the end of September, where the forces are working with the local army against radical Islamist groups. However, the number of troops has grown exponentially since. The tragic deaths of four US service members in an ambush in Niger alerted Washington and US voters to the larger issue of American military deployments in Africa. Even senior lawmakers were surprised by the size of the US presence in the region as outlined by the Pentagon in the incident’s wake. “I didn’t know there was a thousand troops in Niger,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee, in a Sunday broadcast interview. On Capitol Hill, Senator Graham wasn’t the only top member taken aback by the fact that 800 US troops, according to the military, are in Niger, a landlocked nation surrounded by unstable neighbors with a military generally rated as “poor.” Surprise was bipartisan. Asked if he knew about the US presence there, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York on Sunday said, “No, I did not.”
According to the Department of Defense data from 2017, the US has over 1.3 million men and women on active duty, with more than 450,000 people stationed overseas. For assumed safety reasons, not every place the American military is stationed is public knowledge, but numbers of troops in major hotspots worldwide are available to the public. Here is a comprehensive overview of deployment statistics from each facet of the American military circa 2017.
Afghanistan: In Afghanistan, about 8,4000 US troops are authorized to take part in Resolute Support. Resolute Support is a NATO-led, non-combat mission. According to the NATO website, “the Resolute Support Mission focuses primarily on training, advice and assistance activities at the security-related ministries, in the country’s institutions, and among the senior ranks of the army and police. The Resolute Support Mission works closely with different elements of the Afghan army, police, and air force. The Commander of the mission has a degree of flexibility in the use of personnel and assets at his disposal. This ensures that training, advice and assistance are delivered most effectively and where they are most needed”. In other words, Operation Resolute Support aims to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions in their fight against the Taliban and other terrorist networks.
However, U.S. defense officials said the average number of American troops in Afghanistan is thousands more than the Pentagon has acknowledged officially, according to a report. The Pentagon official says there are 8,400 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, but defense officials told the Wall Street Journal that the actual number is around 12,000. According to a Business Insider article, The number of troops authorized to be assigned to Resolute Force or U.S. Forces Afghanistan, the two military missions in Afghanistan, is 8,448. However, troops arriving or departing Afghanistan creates overlaps. Units and service members are also in the country on temporary duty, which is less than 120 days. With those additional forces, the actual number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan is between 11,000 and 12,000, officials said.
Iraq: In Iraq, it is thought that about 4,000-6,000 American soldiers are taking part in Operation Inherent Resolve, which aims to eliminate the Islamic State. While only 5,262 US troops are authorized to be in Iraq, the actual numbers have been larger for a while as commanders leverage temporary assignments like the one involving the 82nd Airborne in Mosul. According to the Military Times, an unspecified number of combat soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division have been ordered to northern Iraq, marking the Pentagon’s latest escalation in what’s been a slow-moving campaign to flush Islamic State fighters from their stronghold in the city of Mosul.
“Additional members of 2/82 BCT are deploying to Iraq on a non-enduring temporary mission to provide additional ‘advise and assist’ support to our Iraq partners as they liberate Mosul,” U.S. officials in Baghdad told Military Times in March 2017. The unit designation refers to the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, a force of more than 4,000 based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. It’s believed there are closer to 6,000 Americans in Iraq, NOT including this new deployment. If those plans bear out, the U.S. would have closer to 10,000 military personnel on the ground for a mission officials continue to call advisory.
Kuwait: In 2016, about 15,000 soldiers were spread among bases in Kuwait such as Camp Arifjan, Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, and Ali Al Salem Air Base. In 2017 The U.S. military sent up to 2,500 additional ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to backup coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Poland: In Poland, about 3,500 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team are stationed as part of Atlantic Resolve, which seeks to halt Russian aggression. These soldiers will help train local forces and provide security, eventually fanning out to other countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary to do the same.
Somalia: In Somalia, about 40 US soldiers from the 101st Airborne division are assisting the central government in training its forces and fighting the terrorist group al-Shabab. According to a BBC article from December 2017 Al-Shabab, meaning “The Youth” in Arabic, emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts. It is banned as a terrorist group by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters. Al-Shabab advocates the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam, while most Somalis are Sufis. It has imposed a strict version of Sharia in areas under its control, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves. Somalia’s government blamed Al-Shabab for the killing of at least 500 people in a huge truck bombing in the capital Mogadishu in October 2017. It was East Africa’s deadliest bombing. Al-Shabab, however, did not claim responsibility for it. It did confirm carrying out a massive attack on a Kenyan military base in Somalia’s el-Ade town in January 2016, killing, according to Somalia’s then-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, about 180 soldiers. The Kenyan military disputed the number, but refused to give a death toll.
Syria: In Syria, 500 US special forces and 250 Rangers are working in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. In March 2017, the Pentagon was mulling over sending an additional 1,000 US service members Syria. A Buzzfeed report from August 2017 said that there are really about 2,000 US forces in Syria — about 850 (including US Marines) than previously thought. According to said Buzzfeed article, The US has so far been reluctant to let the world know too much about what it is doing on the ground in Syria. Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, Washington has no official invitation from Syria’s government in Damascus, and stopped disclosing numbers of deployed troops.
But there are believed to be around 2,000 US Army Rangers and Marines, along with Special Forces personnel, in Syria, and the Pentagon’s 2018 budget includes $500 million to train and equip Syrian forces fighting ISIS.
“In order to maintain tactical surprise, ensure operational security and force protection, the coalition will not routinely announce or confirm information about the capabilities, force numbers, locations, or movement of forces in or out of Iraq and Syria,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman. Ned Price, National Security Council spokesman under Obama also weighed in, saying “That move deprives the public of information it has a right to know about the wars in which the U.S. is engaging. The position of the Obama administration was that the American people had a right to know if servicemen and women were in harm’s way. It’s truly shocking that the current administration furtively deploys troops without public debate or describing their larger strategy”. According to the LA Times, Even when news of a deployment leaks, officials will confirm only the broad description of the unit size being deployed — such as a brigade, which can be between 3,200 and 4,000 troops.
Under President Donald Trump, the US-led coalition has developed closer coordination with a collection of militias and tribes called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), directing air and ground assaults. This has angered Turkey, who despise the Kurds. While the US has allied with Kurds in the SDF to help defeat ISIS, many Kurds are also involved in the Kurdistan Workers Party (also known as the PKK) which is considered by western nations to be a terrorist Organization. Syrian Kurds involved with SDF claim they have nothing to do with the PKK, but Turkey is on the offensive, creating unstable relations with the US.
Ukraine: In Ukraine, 250 Oklahoma National Guardsmen are training Ukrainian forces in support of Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. According to the Official Homepage of the United States Army Europe, Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine is the name for the training mission being conducted by U.S. Forces in support of Ukraine. The training is focused at partnering at the battalion-level and below, building a professional and capable Ukrainian units to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The headquarters is also working with our Ukrainian partners on the development of their training center and cadre at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center. Other elements are working with the Ukrainian Army on a review and modernization of their doctrine. The U.S. will continue training and advising Ukrainian security forces until 2020, and JMTG-U will oversee defensive and security training for up to five battalions of Ministry of Defense forces per year.
Bahrain: About 7,000 US military personnel, mostly sailors, are based in Bahrain, which is home to the 5th Navy Fleet
Saudi Arabia: The Navy’s 5th Fleet is stationed around Saudi Arabia. The USS Bataan and George H.W. Bush are part of the 5th, which consists of 24 ships and 16,731 service members. The Bush is patrolling the Persian Gulf, while the Bataan is south of Yemen.
Strait of Gibraltar: The Navy’s 6th Fleet is stationed around the Strait of Gibraltar. The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Gibraltar and Peninsular Spain in Europe from Morocco and Ceuta in Africa. The USS Carney, Ross, Porter, and Donald Cook are destroyer ships part of the 6th Navy Fleet, which contains 17 ships and 12,638 sailors.
Japan: The Navy’s 7th is near Japan and the Pacific Ocean.The USS Reagan, Bonhomme Richard, Carl Vinson, and Makin Island are part of the 7th, which consists of 53 ships and 37,935 sailors. The 7th fleet has experienced three high-profile accidents of late that resulted in deaths. The USS John S, McCain and USS Fitzgerald both collided with merchant ships, and the USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay.
US Marines are deployed around the world to help counter the Islamic State. Some are also deployed in efforts to contain Russia and to provide security.
Afghanistan: In Afghanistan, 300 Marines are taking part in Resolute Support.
Norway: In Norway, about 300 Marines are stationed as part of a bilateral agreement between Oslo and Washington to undergo winter training and reinforce Norway’s border with Russia.
South Sudan: In South Sudan, 40 US Marines are providing security to the US Embassy.
Syria: In Syria, approximately 400 Marines are taking part in Operation Inherent Resolve.
Bahrain: A large number of US airmen operate out of the Shaykh Isa Air Base, where F-16s, F/A-18s, and P-3 surveillance aircraft are stationed.
Bulgaria: Two F-35s were deployed to Bulgaria for training and “reassuring allies and partners of US dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region.” Another two F-35s were deployed to Europe and will visit multiple NATO countries in support of European Reassurance Initiative. The European Reassurance Initiative is a program that was initiated in June 2014, about three months after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, by the White House to increase the U.S. presence in Europe for security purposes.
Jordan: In Jordan, 1,500 soldiers, a squadron of F-16s, a Patriot missile battery, and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems have been deployed due to the war in Syria.
Middle East: Four hundred airmen from the 5th Bomb Wing were deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Saudi Arabia: Elements of the US 379th Air Expeditionary Wing are based in Eskan Village Air Base in Saudi Arabia, where the 5th Navy Fleet also patrols.
South Korea: Twelve F-16 fighters are in South Korea to “help maintain a deterrent against threats to regional security and stability.” Multiple B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers are also stationed there.
Qatar: Thousands of US service members, mostly airmen, are deployed in Qatar, where the US Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base is located.