The Pentagon just can't or won't say how many troops are deployed to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The long-running controversy over how many and where troops are in harm's way reached the point Monday where Pentagon officials were disputing their own required quarterly report on deployments worldwide from the Defense Manpower Data Center.
"Those numbers are not meant to represent an accurate accounting," Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said of the DMDC's report. "They shouldn't be relied upon."
He said that the DMDC's quarterly reports were "routinely over and under" the actual count of troops on the ground, and only gave a "snapshot" in time. There was a general reluctance to give out actual numbers for fear of "telegraphing or silhouetting to the enemy" U.S. troop strength, Manning said.
The DMDC numbers, first reported by Military Times, gave evidence of what has been widely known and occasionally confirmed by Pentagon officials for years -- that the official counts, or Force Management Levels (FMLs), on the numbers of troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are well below the actual numbers of service members in each country.
In August, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledged the discrepancies and pledged to give a fuller accounting for Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
According to the DMDC's quarterly report, there were a total of 25,910 U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan -- more than 11,000 above the official number given by the Pentagon for the three countries of 14,765.
In Syria, there were 1,720 U.S. troops, more than three times the FML level the Pentagon repeated on Monday of 503.
The same report showed there were 8,992 American troops in Iraq, almost 3,500 more than the official Defense Department tally of 5,262.
In Afghanistan, DMDC said there were 15,298 troops, as opposed to the 14,000 figure given earlier this month by Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.
In addition to the 15,298 U.S. troops, there were also 1,202 DoD civilians in Afghanistan, for a total reported U.S. footprint in Afghanistan of 16,500.
The troop cap in Afghanistan under the Obama administration had been 8,500 but the Pentagon later acknowledged there were about 11,000 on the ground.
Two weeks ago, McKenzie said the 3,000 additional troops authorized for deployment in August by President Donald Trump had arrived in Afghanistan, boosting the troop strength to 14,000.
McKenzie and Dana White, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, have pledged to give a more accurate account of the numbers of troops in Iraq and Syria.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.