Democrats push back on DoD decision to withhold troop numbers overseas

Almost nine months after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed orders to send more troops to Afghanistan, the public still doesn’t know how many U.S. service members are currently in the country.

That goes for Iraq and Syria as well.

The Defense Manpower Data Center stripped total U.S. troop numbers for Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan from its quarterly report in December on the number of troops and civilians overseas.

Now some House Democrats are taking action, stating the redaction of troop numbers is a transparency issue.

House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and all of the Democrats on the National Security Subcommittee signed a May 10 letter urging the Defense Department to report troop numbers overseas.

“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,” the letter stated.

The lawmakers state accurate and transparent accounting of troops helps Congress make better decisions regarding personnel and equipment.

The Trump administration stopped reporting troop numbers last year.

This isn’t the only area DoD is trying to cloister up.

DoD requested reprieve from parts of the Freedom of Information Act in this year’s defense authorization bill as it has done in the past.

The proposed legislation would give DoD a de facto blank check to deny FOIA requests.

“The way that this language is written is very squishy, which is not a legal term, but you look at it and the [provision] says ‘any information that would identify a method to accomplish a specific mission under a particular set of operational conditions.’ That doesn’t mean anything to me. Those terms aren’t defined in this legislation,” Liz Hempowicz, policy director at the Project on Government Oversight told Federal News Radio.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook.