US Says 2000 Troops Are in Syria, a Fourfold Increase

Manning said Wednesday that it took weeks for the Pentagon to release the new official number because military officials wanted to make sure that it was right.

The number does not represent an increase in troop levels in the country, a Pentagon spokesman said, but instead reflects a more accurate count.

The U.S. military plans on staying in Syria as long as necessary to ensure the Islamic State group does not return, a Pentagon official told AFP on Tuesday, as the fight against the jihadists winds down.

Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said the new number was being provided in the interests of transparency, but stressed the figure was approximate so as to not provide information to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The Defense Department under Secretary Jim Mattis had promised to provide more accurate estimates of US troops stationed overseas.

Manning also said there are about 5,200 USA troops in Iraq.

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.

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Manning noted that troop numbers in Syria are "trending downward".

Military officials have long said that despite several high-profile ISIS defeats, military operations against the terror group would continue for some time. Manning said this new phase presents an opportunity to refine how the department reports troop counts to the public.

Last week the Pentagon announced that 400 Marines who had been providing artillery support for the offensive on the former ISIS capital city of Raqqa would return to the U.S. These 400 Marines are not included in the 2,000 troop count.

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.

The U.S. military, along with other nations in a US-led coalition, began bombing IS in late 2014 but until now has largely declined to address what its role in the tangled conflict might be after the jihadists are beaten. That number also is trending downward, he said, as the US -led coalition in both Iraq and Syria transition from supporting offensive combat operations against Islamic State fighters to supporting local security efforts to prevent a reemergence of IS. "Their collective actions call into question their commitment to dealing a lasting defeat to [IS] and other extremist groups". "Nor do they appear to be serious about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias".

Russia has claimed its presence is primarily to thwart jihadist groups but the Pentagon says only a tiny portion of Russian strikes have targeted IS. He said the US -led coalition would continue to apply "continuous pressure on the terrorist networks wherever they operate".

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