The Pentagon wants Islamic State terrorists to be pleasantly surprised by US troop deployments in Iraq and Syria, with Washington apparently adopting a new policy of limiting soldier movement disclosures and resorting to unannounced “temporary” missions.
“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,” Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times this week.
A representative of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) confirmed to Sputnik that “routine” troop deployment announcements will stop under Donald Trump as US forces want the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists to be the “first to know about any additional capabilities the Coalition or our partner forces may present them on the battlefield.”
Ned Price, National Security Council spokesman under President Barack Obama, criticized the new approach of Trump’s administration not to share such crucial details with Americans.
“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,” Price told the LA Times. “It’s truly shocking that the current administration furtively deploys troops without public debate or describing their larger strategy.”
Earlier this month, a number of US security officials leaked information to the US media that around 400 Marines were quietly deployed to northern Syria to support the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces. Other reports from Pentagon officials indicated that Washington is deploying up to 300 more additional paratroopers to help the Iraqi military recapture the city of Mosul.
While neither of those deployments were officially announced prior to their implementation, Gen. Joseph Votel, the top US commander in the Middle East did acknowledge the additional troop presence in Syria to the House Armed Services committee on Wednesday.
Some 5,262 US troops are currently authorized to be in Iraq, a US military official told the Military Times last Thursday. Another 503 are authorized to be in Syria – by Washington, but not Damascus, which considers the US presence an illegal invasion.
The US officials further noted that the real numbers may be way larger as those figures fail to reflect those servicemen who are sent to Iraq and Syria on so-called temporary “non-enduring” missions. For instance, there are roughly 1,000 US special operations forces, Marines and Army Rangers in Northern Syria today – and that number might soon grow even larger.
“We have recognized that as we continue to pursue our military objectives in Syria, we are going to need more direct all-weather fire support capability for our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Votel told the committee. “We have not taken our eye off what our principle mission is, which is to advise and assist and enable our partners… Help our partners fight, but not fight for them.”
Commenting on a Fox News report that the Pentagon is sending two units – comprising 200 to 300 soldiers in total – from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2nd BCT) to Iraq, Pahon told the Military Times, that there was no plan to announce the temporary deployment because it will last less 120 days and will not count against the authorized number of American troops in the country.
US-led coalition admits more civilian casualties
Meanwhile OIR has released its latest Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) Monthly Civilian Casualty Report, which admitted 9 additional civilian deaths caused by the US-led coalition – five in 2017 and four more from 2015.
The Pentagon reported receiving 41 new reports of possible civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria during the month of February 2017. The report said the coalition completed the assessment on 17 reports, while a total of 43 inquiries are still open and are being probed.
Out of 17 assessed reports, the coalition dismissed twelve as “non-credible” while five were assessed to be “credible.”
Despite numerous human rights organizations’ reports of the mounting civilian death toll in Mosul, Iraq, the US-led coalition claimed it received only 15 credible reports of incidents in which civilians were killed by the time US-coordinated Iraqi forces who freed Eastern Mosul in February.
“In Mosul, Iraq, since the start of operations to liberate the city on Oct. 17, 2016, to the liberation of the East side of Mosul on Feb. 18, 2017, the total number of reports of possible civilian casualties was 37. The total number of credible reports during this time period was 15,” the US-led coalition said, without specifying how many civilians were killed in these incidents.
The Pentagon said that in total from August 2014 to February 2017, the coalition conducted a total of 18,645 strikes that included 42,089 separate engagements accidentally killing 229 civilians. Meanwhile, rights groups and activists such as the UK-based monitoring group Airwars, believe the number could be more than 10 times higher.