President Trump is flanked by National Security Advisor John Bolton while receiving a briefing from senior military leaders regarding Syria on April 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.
A newly released Defense Department report acknowledges—apparently for the first time under the Trump administration—the presence of U.S. military contractors in Syria. The report comes just over a week after President Trump suggested America’s withdrawal was imminent, saying he wanted U.S. forces to “get out.”
The report—which compiles data for U.S. contractors operating under authority of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM)—for the first time names Syria as a site where CENTCOM is deploying contractors.
Previous reports did not acknowledge any U.S. contractor presence in Syria. The January report, for instance, breaks out data only for Iraq and Afghanistan. The new report lumps together data for Iraq and Syria, but does not specify what activities contractors are conducting in the respective countries. The number of contractors listed as engaging in “base support,” however, increased by 27 percent from the last quarter.
CENTCOM’s press office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The number of contractors described as “directly supporting DoD [Defense Department] funded contracts” increased 11.7 percent compared to the last quarter, the report says, “in part due to the inclusion of Syria data.”
It’s not clear whether the new data categories reflect Pentagon anticipation of long-term commitment of private U.S. personnel in Syria. The census comes as Trump is publicly contemplating whether to launch missile strikes against Syrian government targets in retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attacks carried out this weekend by Bashar al-Assad that killed at least 42 people—a number that is expected to rise.
The current report does not reveal the specific companies for which the contractors work. In 2016, the Daily Beast reported the existence of a $9.6 million Pentagon contract with the McLean, Virginia–based company Six3 Intelligence Solutions, Inc. to provide “intelligence analysis services” in Syria. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said earlier this year that the Pentagon was planning to send contractors into Syria.
Photos and videos have circulated recently on social media purporting to show a newly-constructed U.S. base in Manbij, Syria. The Pentagon has not addressed those claims. The U.S. currently acknowledges approximately 2,000 troops stationed in Syria.
Michael Tracey is a staff reporter for TYT Investigates.