Whether it's the Middle East, Africa, or Eastern Europe, the familiar pattern of American military expansion goes something like this: first we are promised that US troops are merely in a country for limited "training" missions with "partner" forces; next we are told of "counter-terror" operations which require an increased "footprint"; after which we are assured once again that there are "no boots on the ground" but a "minimal" increase of train and assist missions; finally, US soldiers begin to come home in body bags at which point the 9/11 era AUMF is cynically invoked (Authorization For Use of Military Force).
On Tuesday the whole Orwellian cycle of American non-deployment to non-wars (by our politicians' standards) was on display during a single Pentagon press briefing, when Army spokesman Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard told reporters that 4,000 US troops were deployed to Syria, but then awkwardly attempted to walk back the statement less than 30 seconds later:
Wow. Question on how many US troops are in Syria. MG initially says 4,000 (!) then apologizes, changes to 500 after a follow-up. pic.twitter.com/ru92GkU3PW— Jake Godin (@JakeGodin) October 31, 2017
Army spokesman: I think it's a little over 4,000 US troops in Syria right now that are supporting efforts against Daesh, and supporting the SDF.
Reporter: So you have 4,000 US troops in Syria, cause I thought that publicly, previously the number was 1,000. So this would be four times - well it was actually 500, but your saying 4000 US troops are currently in Syria?
Army spokesman: I'm sorry I mispoke there - there are approximately 500 troops in Syria.
...[press pool breaks out in laughter...]
Interestingly, Major Jarrard appeared to have thought carefully as he struggled to articulate the initial "over 4,000" number. Though he begins his response by stumbling over his words, he actually appears firm and confident when he finally asserts the 4,000 number. It is only after the incredulous reporter points out the colossal leap in numbers (compared to previous official Pentagon statements) that the US coalition spokesman quickly walks it back and says, "I'm sorry I mispoke there - there are approximately 500 troops in Syria."
Though the DoD has long stuck to its official "503 U.S. troops, which mostly covers special operations units", it appears that not even the usually tame and docile Pentagon press pool is buying this, as the reporters broke out into loud laughter, after which long awkwardness and silence followed.
And even the Military Times, in its coverage, isn't buying it:
However, those numbers don’t paint the actual picture of the size and scope of the U.S. footprint in either country. U.S. commanders on the ground have leeway to bring in extra troops for limited periods of time that don’t count towards the total FML.
The current number of troops in Syria is above the FML, Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesperson told Military Times. But the number of U.S. boots on the ground in Syria is “not anywhere near” the 4,000 figure Jarrard mistakenly told reporters on Tuesday.
The special operations commander “is only human; he just made a mistake,” Pahon told Military Times.
Last summer, in a move that angered the US administration, Turkish state media leaked the locations of no less than ten small scale American military bases in northern Syria alone (revelations of US bases in southern Syria began surfacing as well). As the Military Times further acknowledges, these bases - though likely special forces forward operating bases - require a broad support base of US personnel operating in various logistical roles inside Syria.
And with the recent US-SDF build up in and around Raqqa after its recent liberation from ISIS, there is no doubt that this support base of US personnel on the ground in Syria has necessarily increased on a significant scale.
According to Military Times:
Images of massive convoys carrying coalition trucks and weapons and supplies to Syrian Democratic Forces could be seen on an almost daily occurrence, hinting that U.S. involvement in the Syrian battlefield was much higher than the 503 telegraphed in daily press briefings.
Moreover, U.S. forces have been operating in a number of capacities to include security presence patrols to keep the peace between Turkey and U.S.-backed Kurdish militants. Images of rangers steam rolling through the northern Syria countryside in Stryker vehicles brandishing American flags during the spring was a common sight for several months.
A task force of U.S. Marines has also been providing 24-hour all-weather artillery support to Syrian fighters. And U.S. special operations forces are actively advising and supporting SDF fighters as they continue to take ground from ISIS.
As we noted previously, even the former senior national security adviser to the Obama administration, Colin Kahl, (among the very architects of Obama's dangerous and disastrous Syria policy) admitted that that the United States has entered a “quagmire” and will inevitably climb “further up the escalation ladder in Syria.” It is perhaps an obvious sign that we have already long been in the midst of a quagmire in Syria (the result of failed regime change plans) when the Pentagon spokesman comically spouts obvious lies, which elicits press pool laughter at the obvious absurdity of it all.
Of course, the US was already very far up the “escalation ladder” from the moment it attempted to save face regarding the failed regime change war against Assad by investing itself in the war to the point of having to defend its SDF assets on the ground - a "plan B" of sorts: embed with the SDF (or Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces). This "plan B" will no doubt lead to more and more troop deployments, which itself will likely result in more absurdly comical (and tragic) displays of Orwellian Pentagon press briefings.