Just Security Obtains Overseas Troop Counts That the Pentagon Concealed from the Public

On Nov. 23, DoD disclosed the quarterly numbers of troops permanently assigned to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria from December 2017 to September 2020.
On Dec. 11, DoD produced 20 pages of heavily redacted documents responsive to the request for explanatory records, and claimed that the redacted information was withheld under FOIA Exemption 1, which applies to properly classified information related to the national defense. DoD also claimed that the temporary troop numbers and FML figures were classified and therefore properly withheld under Exemption 1.
On Jan. 6 and 11, DoD made supplementary disclosures totaling 156 pages. For the first time, DoD publicly released the unclassified versions of quarterly troop level deployment reports to Congress required by Sec. 1267 of the FY 2018 NDAA (“Sec. 1267 reports”). These reports include what they describe as “publicly disclosed approximate numbers” of U.S. troops deployed to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, although DoD had never previously made these numbers publicly available on its website, and has refused to provide at least some of these numbers to reporters when asked. The classified annexes, though heavily redacted, were also released.
DOD also produced redacted documents concerning changes made to its “force management construct”—or the internal figures the Department uses to manage, account for, and report force levels.
In a declaration accompanying DoD’s summary judgment papers (“Williams Declaration”), Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Thomas Williams, explained DoD’s decision to withhold certain portions of the requested information under FOIA Exemption 1. This explanation is, itself, the subject of heavy redactions. The declaration also sheds light on Mattis’s 2017 decisions to amend DoD’s troop level accounting and transparency policies.
On Feb. 19, DoD responded by letter to several outstanding questions posed by Just Security the month before. The letter describes DoD’s criteria for calculating DMDC’s permanent and temporary figures, asserts that precise “top-line numbers” of deployed personnel are classified, and provides a rationale for failing to comply with the requirement in the Fiscal Year 2019 NDAA requirement that it post top line troop numbers on its website. The letter also explains that DoD’s DMDC figures, its Section 1267 estimates, and its force management construct are distinct and separate figures in terms of their purposes and their computation criteria.

Image: US soldiers in Bradley tanks patrol an area near Syria’s northeastern Semalka border crossing with Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous territory, on January 12, 2021. Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images

2021-03-04 | Military, combat troops, Department of Defense | English |