Over the past several years, the Pentagon has made some stunning admissions about its mismanagement of funds – the latest, in 2016, being that their accounting system is so bad that they had identified $6.5 trillion in erroneous adjustments to their books. But despite losing trillions of dollars, they hadn’t lost any people. At least until now.
As Stripes notes, the latest report on military personnel includes 44,000 “unknown” soldiers, members of the military that the Pentagon cannot account for. These people are getting paid, but the military doesn’t know where they are.
There were other surprises, like an adjustment in the number of troops in Syria (from 500 to around 2,000), and the fact that we have around 800 troops in Niger, much to the surprise of Congress who asked about the number after four were killed in that country.
“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.”
However, another Pentagon spokesman questions the value of the data center numbers.
“Those numbers are not meant to represent an accurate accounting of troops currently deployed to any location,” said Eric Pahon. “They should not be relied upon for a current picture for what is going on.”
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis ordered a review of how personnel are counted in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“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,’ ’’ Mattis said during a news conference in August.
There are a lot of important questions we need to ask about our military endeavors, first being why we have troops in Syria at all – a sovereign country into which we were not invited – or why we have 800 people secretly placed into Niger, where we have no strategic interests. But if we can’t even get an accurate count of troop locations, then those more important questions will probably never get asked.