"The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force," said Thomas Jefferson in an 1807 letter to Chandler Price. And what would the nation's third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence say of today's American "global force" deployed across the earth?
America's "global military presence" is not hyperbole, but a literal fact, as a new Department of Defense study has found that US military personnel are stationed in literally every nation on the earth. The report bluntly confirms that, "The United States has military personnel in nearly every country in the world, ranging from two liaison officers in Fiji to tens of thousands from all of the service branches in Japan and Germany, according to the report."
But perhaps more important and equally absurd (when one considers the original beginnings of the humble "republic" envisioned by founders like Madison and Jefferson) is the fact that America's world-wide military presence is such that the Pentagon itself can't track how many US service members are deployed where. A new bombshell article in Stars and Stripes military newspaper is non-ironically headlined, "Report: 44,000 ‘unknown’ military personnel stationed around the world".
The Stripes article opens with a line that would seem straight out of the Onion, yet matter-of-factly states, "The U.S. military has more than 44,000 troops across the globe that the Pentagon claims it cannot track, according to a recent report."
The Pentagon's system for accounting troop deployment numbers, maintained by the Defense Manpower Data Center under the Office of the Secretary of Defense, lists up to 44,000 troops in a country location category labeled "Unknown".
The report has come to light after a series of recent Pentagon press briefings on military actions in the Middle East and Africa which left journalists scratching their heads. For example the latest DoD admission that there are "about 2,000 troops in Syria" – four times the previously acknowledged figure – came after a late October Pentagon presser wherein an Army spokesman told reporters that 4,000 troops were deployed to Syria, after which he awkwardly walked back the statement less than 30 seconds later, saying "I'm sorry I mispoke there – there are approximately 500 troops in Syria".
And when news broke of the October 4 ambush and deaths of four elite Green Beret soldiers in Niger, the immediate reaction voiced among congressional leaders and echoed generally in the media was: "we have troops in Niger?" – after which it came to light that the US has at least 6,000 military personnel spread across the African continent, though few knew of AFRICOM's (US Africa Command) dangerously burgeoning number of undisclosed daily missions.
“We are not at a point where we can give numbers other than those officially stated,” said Army Col. Rob Manning, quoted in Stripes. Though as Stripes acknowledges it appears that this is due more to the Pentagon simply not knowing where it has stationed thousands of troops rather than the officially stated reasons of "secrecy" and force protection from enemies. The Army spokesman further asserted, “Our commitment is to be as transparent as we can, within the constraints of operation security,” but it's also that case that, "The Pentagon acknowledged in a statement that it has no good way to track how many service members are stationed overseas, where they are and when they were there," according to Stripes.
A Pentagon statement also ambiguously acknowledged that its troop tracking methods will inevitably miscalculate the locations of its roughly 1.3 million total personnel across all branches, based on the worrisome reasoning that "there is no easy way to track all deployments":
“There is no one personnel system in the [Defense Department] that tracks the daily location of all DoD personnel. There is no easy way to track all deployments, training exercises, TDY (being attached to another unit for training or specific missions, typically for less than six months) or temporary assignments,” according to the statement. “If you take the total numbers assigned in the United States and assigned overseas, and add the ‘Unknown,’ you get the total force numbers for each service.”
The report also comes after President Trump unveiled a new Afghan strategy last summer, saying the US would not pull out of the now 16-year long war but would instead inject more troops into the country for increased anti-terror operations. According to recent statements from the Pentagon, the total number of US soldiers in Afghanistan has risen to about 14,000, though accounting procures have been especially unclear concerning the nation's longest running war.
When Secretary of Defense James Mattis was asked during a news conference last summer about troops levels in Afghanistan he said, “There’s a very strange accounting procedure I inherited… What I’m probably going to end up doing is out putting everyone into one thing and saying, ‘Here’s how many are really there now."
And none of this addresses the even greater numbers of civilian contractors in global hot spots where America is present. According to Stripes, "The United States maintains 23,659 contractors in Afghanistan and 4,609 in Iraq, according to a fourth-quarter 2017 report from the Defense Department."
Given that we learned this week of 44,000 troops stationed in locations the Pentagon itself deems "unknown", perhaps we are long overdue for a massive drawback of overseas forces and bloated military budgets? Of course if the Pentagon can't find them in the first place, it might be hard to bring them home.