It’s an open question of whether President Joe Biden will stick to the current deadline for pulling all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan under a peace agreement signed with the Taliban last year. First, though, we’ll have to figure out how many troops are actually there right now.
Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that the U.S. has about 3,500 troops in the country, or 1,000 more than the 2,500 that the Department of Defense has been reporting.
The Times, citing European, American, and Afghan officials, reports that the additional troops are a mix of special operations forces that have been moved “off the books” as well as “temporary” or “transitioning” units that haven’t been included in the official count.
Under the current timetable for withdrawal, all troops are supposed to be out of the country by May 1.
The presence of these 1,000 uncounted troops, in addition to 7,000 NATO and allied troops has some experts questioning whether the military even has the ability to meet that deadline, notes the Times.
Their presence also highlights just how opaque and secretive the conduct of America’s decadeslong war in Afghanistan has been.
“I don’t think the U.S. public genuinely understands just how little oversight there is over troops deployments around the world,” Adam Weinstein, a research fellow with the Quincy Institute, tells Reason. “The last 20 years has produced this culture in Washington, D.C., where foreign policy and conducting wars is viewed as this technocratic or bureaucratic process that should fall outside the scope of electoral politics.”
There’s an incredible amount of bureaucratic minutiae that goes into how troops abroad are counted, which leaves a lot of wiggle room for the administration and the military to keep troops deployed in Afghanistan in excess of publicly agreed-to troop ceilings.
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