Can anyone tell me exactly how many US servicemembers are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan? How about the number of Americans in uniform on 9/11? Or the number serving in uniform today? Does anyone know the total number of servicemembers deployed to Afghanistan over the past 9 years? Deployed to Iraq since 2003? I’m asking these questions because all I’ve been hearing since “combat operations” ended in Iraq on September 1st is that “the troops are coming home.” Let’s take a reality check re: the number of troops still on the frontlines and then you decide if all the redeployment happy talk rings true.
When we first took stock of our military capabilities the day after 9/11, there were 1.37 million Americans serving in the military with just over 200,000, or about 15%, deployed overseas in static positions. The shell game since then has gone something like this: The initial force deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 was 13,000 and increased to a stable force of 20,000 through 2005, then increased to 23,000 in 2006, to 26,000 in 2007 and 2008, to 67,000 in 2009—and today Afghanistan fields approximately 100,000 US troops. In 2003 the US invaded Iraq with approximately 175,000 boots on the ground; between 2004-2007, deployment averaged 150,000. The 2007 troop “surge” increased the total to its peak strength of 197,000 and returned to approximately 150,000 by summer 2009. Today, there are approximately 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq supporting Operation “New Dawn”.
Taken as a whole, the number of troops deployed inside Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 9 years averaged approximately 225,000; the total today is 150,000. This boots on the ground number does not include 28,000 personnel and logistic support assets deployed in Kuwait that has remained constant since 9/11. Nor the requisite sea and air assets in the region supporting these operations, which totaled approximately 75,000 during this same period. Even if we were to round down the numbers, we are still at 253,000 troops deployed supporting operations exclusively in Iraq and Afghanistan, while another 175,000 are deployed in static positions world-wide supporting other missions, contingencies and treaty obligations.
The bottom line: Don’t believe it when you hear “the troops are coming home,” because they’re not. We still have 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq, 29,000 troops deployed in Kuwait, 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, 75,000 airmen and sailors deployed in the region supporting operations and an additional 175,000 military personnel deployed world-wide. We’re talking approximately 419,000 troopers deployed in perpetuity from an available end strength of 1.4 million—a third of available US combat power—or a sustained 50% increase since that fateful September day over nine years ago.
But there’s more to consider. Since 9/11, the Army has “grown” from 480,000 to 569,000, an 89,000 Soldier increase, while our beloved Marines have ratcheted up their numbers from 172,000 to 202,000 for a 30,000 Devil Dog increase. Why does this matter? Because we increased our boot end strength only 119,000 over nine years or less than 10% of our total force, while keeping over 35% of our total forces deployed at any given time during this timeframe. And remember, the majority of the 35% total have been repeatedly deployed and engaged in combat operations.
So again, no matter how you work the numbers, “the troops are coming home” is pure spin. The harsh reality is that the troops remain deployed and strategically exhausted. And while the drawdown in Iraq is welcome news, for every two troopers the US drew down, one returned stateside, the other deployed to Afghanistan or elsewhere.
As I reviewed these numbers from a host of open source and non-Wiki documents available on Department of Defense websites, I decided to fact check them with an inside-the-Pentagon planner who confirmed my math. His take on the propaganda went something like this: “. . . deployment numbers are really like a shell game . . . try to follow the shell with one pea hidden underneath it . . we’re moving some over here, and there, and then over there, and then back again . . . repeat and distract the player with song and dance . . . and guess what? Normally you would turn over all the shells and find at least one pea under one shell. However, now the rules have changed and the powers-that-be will lift up all the shells, but hide the pea.” He’s got that right, it’s a new shell game. No one really knows how many troops are deployed, and no one really knows when they’re coming home.
For more stories on the “reality” of the hardships faced by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq visit CLOSE HOLD