Pentagon: About 2000 USA troops in Syria

OPINION- Destruction of Daesh to escalate regional violence

Pentagon: US committed to Syria until ISIS areas stabilized

The U.S. military had as recently as November said the official troop count in Syria was 503.

The Pentagon says there are roughly 2,000 USA troops in Syria, quadruple the number US officials had acknowledged until now.

"We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to - to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups", Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said. "We are simply revising how we internally conduct force management and publicly report the USA force commitment in Iraq and Syria", said Manning.

Manning would not say whether the 400 Marines were part of the new 2,000-troop figure.

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United States officials are refusing to put precise timelines on the new phase of the anti-IS mission. "We will be in Syria as long as it takes to make sure that ISIS is not afforded the ability to reestablish safe havens and plan and conduct attacks". He added that "there's still a lot of work to do" in terms of demining and removing explosives from IS-held areas before many civilians can return to their homes.

ISIS has lost about 97 percent of the land it once controlled across Syria and Iraq, Manning said Wednesday, but small pockets of fighters remain in both countries. Under force-management levels unveiled by the Barack Obama administration, the number of United States troops in Syria had been capped at 503 and 5,262 in Iraq, figures that did not account for temporarily deployed personnel.

The figure reflects an order by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to revise how the Pentagon accounted for deployed personnel carrying out major operations in Iraq and Syria.

"It's approximately 2,000 now, could be more, could be less, we don't want to showcase our capabilities to the enemy", Manning said at the Pentagon.

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"The troops are changing their stance as a result", he said. "Their collective actions call into question their commitment to deal a lasting defeat to ISIS and other extremist groups", the colonel said. With the liberation, fewer US forces are needed to support Iraqi and Syrian forces kinetically. "Nor do they appear to be serious about the withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias".

Unlike Russia, the United States is not in Syria at the request or approval of the Damascus government.

Yet it's not clear exactly which Syrian partners the remaining American troops will be supporting to create "sustainable" and "ethnically diverse" local security forces.

Washington has cited Article 51 of a United Nations charter allowing for self-defense of partner forces as legal justification for its military engagement, and that will remain the case going forward.

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Coalition forces are still needed in the two countries, but they will focus now on the train, advise and assist mission.

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