WASHINGTON — About 2,000 American troops are in Syria fighting the Islamic State, a Pentagon spokesman said on Wednesday, almost four times the total previously disclosed as the Trump administration changes how troop numbers are publicly counted.
The new total, ordered disclosed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, counts service members on temporary duty of six months or less who were not included in Obama-era totals. The 1,500 or so previously undisclosed troops in Syria include traditional combat forces like infantry, artillery and forward air controllers trained to call in airstrikes, as well as support personnel, said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman.
He called the previous public total of 503 an “artificial construct” that became increasingly inaccurate as the campaign against the Islamic State progressed.
Military officials said that the 2,000 personnel in Syria represented something of a high-water mark as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria winds down. The American-led coalition has retaken 97 percent of the territory once held by the militants, and the military is working to stabilize recently liberated areas, including the restoration of basic essential services, the removal of explosive materials and the distribution of humanitarian aid.
“The campaign to defeat ISIS is now in a new phase in Iraq and Syria,” Col. Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.