There are about 2,000 US troops deployed in Syria, the Pentagon said Wednesday - a number that is four times more than any official figure that USA officials have previously acknowledged, and yet still lower than at the height of operations in Syria.
USA troops are known to be training and providing support to the Arab-Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been battling the Islamic State group in northern and eastern Syria. Manning said the United States presence in Syria is "conditions-based" to ensure that IS can't reclaim lost ground or plot attacks in the West. Manning declined to say how many American troops were in Syria or Iraq at the height of urban combat operations - those in Raqqa or Mosul, for example - that required larger footprints of US combat advisers.
Over the summer, hundreds of US troops - including Special Operations forces and artillerymen - deployed to Syria as the assault on Raqqa was prepared.
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. Critics say the policy masked the true extent of USA forces fighting IS and prevented the United States military from using support troops, such as mechanics and equipment maintainers in-theater, creating greater reliance on contractors.
But U.S. military operations in Syria are expected to continue.
"The Syrian regime and Russian federation's actions have thus far demonstrated that countering [IS] and other violent extremist groups like [Jabhat Fatah al-Sham] and al-Qaeda is not their foremost priority", Manning said.
The U.S. military, along with other nations in a US-led coalition, began bombing IS in late 2014 but until now has largely declined to address what its role in the tangled conflict might be after the jihadists are beaten.
"They also do not appear to have a plan for how to bring a meaningful conclusion to the civil war that addresses the fundamental problems that led to the rise of ISIS".
A U.S. Marine waits to guide an armored vehicle towing an M777A2 howitzer to a firing position in Syria on May 14, 2017. The city once served as the de facto capital of the militant movement, but fell to the US -led military coalition and its local partners in October.
"As the coalition stops offensive (operations), then, obviously, you don't need that, you need security - you need police forces". "We're going to go exactly along the lines of what the president announced".
Officially, the us military is number 503 in Syria and 5262 in Iraq. The Pentagon's budget for the new fiscal year will provide $13 billion for the operation next year, including $1.8 billion to train and equip partner forces in Iraq and Syria.