The Pentagon has refused to disclose to Kabul Press the total number of American military personnel presently in Afghanistan. Surprisingly that figure is “classified." Kabul Press’ investigation has revealed that the total U.S. military, civilian and contractor force in the region exceeds 400,000 and is growing. In military parlance, these personnel are “in-theater.” This covert escalation may signal that conditions on the ground in Afghanistan are deteriorating faster than expected, thus necessitating a second unannounced surge.
Hard data on military personnel levels is both difficult to find and incomplete. President Obama reportedly set an official ceiling on in-country force levels for Afghanistan at 101,000. NATO, on its ISAF website, states that there are currently 78,430 American military personnel operating under NATO command. Other American units operate independently from NATO under authority of U.S. Central Command. On January 4, 2011, the Wall Street Journal “estimated” that there were 97,000 American military members in-country with 1400 more Marines en-route. There is no evidence that any of these numbers are accurate. There are several methods the Pentagon may be using to covertly surge additional personnel in-theater:
Scenario No. 1: The 101,000 number appears to be construed as a limit on military personnel “assigned” to Afghanistan. That would not include those on temporary duty to Afghanistan (which is known as “being on TDY”). U.S. Special Operations Command personnel in particular are believed to rotate in and out of Afghanistan TDY. Their numbers may be in the thousands. U.S. Air Force units, including this author’s former unit (the First Special Operations Wing), may likewise be operating in Afghanistan TDY.
Scenario No. 2: The 101,000 number does not include Department of Defense civilian personnel and approximately 150,000 civilian contractors, many of whom are former U.S. military members. These civilians and contractors perform a number of military, security, intelligence and logistics tasks which both free up military personnel for combat operations and supplement military efforts. There is no apparent limit on Pentagon civilians and contractors deployed in-country.
Scenario No. 3: There are more than 100,000 U.S. military personnel deployed in-theater but not physically in Afghanistan. They are estimated to be supported by an additional 100,000 private contractors and Pentagon civilians. These personnel carry out intelligence, support, personnel and logistics functions and provide air support and resupply duties. These forces operate in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and in ships in the Indian Ocean. Their numbers are believed to have increased, but there is no published data as to how much. There have been some reports that logistics troops are being pulled out of Afghanistan and redeployed into neighboring countries so that they can be replaced with more combat troops. This cannot be confirmed.
Scenario No. 4: There are believed to be hundreds and perhaps over a thousand CIA paramilitary personnel in Afghanistan. They reportedly operate their own private militias of unknown size. Other personnel have begun to appear in the region. For example, an American named Raymond Davis was arrested on January 27th for killing two civilians in Lahore, Pakistan who may have been Pakistani ISI intelligence agents. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad vaguely claims that Davis is a diplomat, but refuses to explain what exactly he does. It will not explain why he appears to be the co-owner of a private security company named “Hyperion” and will not discuss why he was in Pakistan on a business visa, which is illegal for foreign diplomats working in the United States. Mr. Davis is one of a number of murky personnel who perhaps should be counted as military operatives of the United States.
Depending on what parameters are included in this metric, the total U.S. combat forces and supporting personnel for the Afghanistan war (in-theater) could be calculated at more than 400,000.
In conclusion, the American public is once again being kept in the dark and once again the dubious justification is that the information is classified. Hiding this information under a blanket of secrecy is of questionable legality under U.S. law. The actual numbers would provide the Taliban with nothing of military value but they would prove embarrassing to President Obama.
The Executive Branch was given the extraordinary authority to classify information and to conceal such information from the American people to protect legitimate U.S. national security interests. It is illegal and an abuse of this authority to use the secrecy laws to protect the present Administration from embarrassment, scrutiny and political damage. It is also improper to classify information which may reveal a floundering war effort. As security in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, the American public can expect more secrecy, less information and more propaganda. It may be that the public will only learn the truth when it sees U.S. helicopters evacuating the U.S. Ambassador from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Obama Administration officials have apparently rationalized all of this, convincing themselves that an uninformed public is a necessary evil. These officials believe that they know what is best for America (as they bumble into Year Ten of a noble effort which continues to be almost criminally mismanaged).