All National Security Subcommittee Dems Ask Mattis to Reverse Trump Administration Decision to Conceal U.S. Troop Numbers from Public

May 10, 2018

Washington, D.C. (May 10, 2018)—Today, all of the Democratic Members of the Subcommittee on National Security within the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter urging Defense Secretary James Mattis to immediately reverse the Trump Administration’s recent decision to redact key data on U.S. personnel strength from the Defense Department’s quarterly public reports.

The Democrats signing the letter are Subcommittee Ranking Member Stephen F. Lynch, Rep. Peter Welch, Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, and ex-officio member Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the full Committee.

“[W]e are writing to express our strong objection to the Trump Administration’s recent decision to redact U.S. troop numbers for Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan from the Defense Department’s quarterly public reports on U.S. personnel strength,” the Members wrote.  “This data was publicly available to Congress and the American people throughout the Bush and Obama Administrations and should continue to be so under the Trump Administration, as it has facilitated the development of policies and measures designed to maximize the protection of U.S. Forces deployed overseas.  In the interest of continued force protection, transparency, and accountability relating to our military presence in key combat zones, we respectfully request that you immediately reverse this policy.”

According to press accounts, the Defense Manpower Data Center recently “stripped” total U.S. troop numbers for Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan from its December quarterly report on the number of active duty, reserve, National Guard, and civilian personnel assigned in the United States and overseas.  In place of this data, the Defense Department left “blank spaces” and inserted a proviso indicating that questions regarding this data are “deferred to OSD [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] Public Affairs/Joint Chiefs of Staff.” 

The Members noted in today’s letter that this data has been publicly available for more than a decade and provides Congress and the American people with critical information pertaining to Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, and other missions.

“An accurate and transparent accounting of deployed U.S. troops has enabled Congress to make better-informed decisions regarding the equipment and personnel necessary to maximize U.S. force protection in combat zones,” the Members wrote.  “It has also underscored whether our military strategies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other areas are achieving their desired results.” 

A report on U.S. troop figures issued in November highlighted significant discrepancies between the actual number of troops on the ground in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan and the much lower, artificial “force management levels” publicly acknowledged by the Pentagon.  As a result, the Defense Department undertook a policy review to ensure greater accuracy in reporting U.S. troop deployment figures.   

“As Secretary of Defense, you have underscored your commitment ‘to developing a more transparent accounting of our troops in the field,’” the Members wrote.  “We believe that an immediate reversal of the Trump Administration’s decision to redact key data on U.S. personnel strength would help fulfill your commitment and greatly enhance transparency and accountability in this area.”

Click here to read today’s letter.