There are now about 1,000 more US troops in Afghanistan than was officially disclosed, a number that stands at 3,500 instead of 2,500, The New York Times (NYT) cited unnamed officials as saying.
The sources claimed the discrepancies in troop numbers add "another layer of complexity to the swirling debate at the White House" over adherence to last year's peace agreement between the Taliban and the Trump administration stipulating the withdrawal of the the remaining American forces from Afghanistan by 1 May.
One of the insiders attributed "the cloudy accounting around troop numbers" to the deployment of "some temporary and transitioning units" as well as some Special Operations forces having been taken "off the books".
"Having more troops in a country than the Defence Department officially acknowledges is common practice. From Syria to Yemen to Mali, the United States often details military troops to the CIA or other agencies, declares that information 'classified' and refuses to publicly acknowledge their presence", the sources asserted.
Pentagon spokesman Rob Lodewick, however, has been cited by the NYT as claiming that the US military is "still at 2,500" in Afghanistan, a statement that followed a State Department spokeswoman saying last week that all options for the 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan "remain on the table".
The spokeswoman added that the US has not yet made any decisions about its "force posture in Afghanistan after 1 May", when the withdrawal of the remaining American troops from the country is due to be completed.
'All Options on the Table' for US Troops in Afghanistan, State Department Says
This came shortly after Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly pointed out in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that the White House is "considering the full withdrawal of [US] forces [from Afghanistan] by May 1st as we consider other options".
Blinken was uneasy over the forecast that if the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, "the security situation [there] will worsen", which may help the Taliban make "rapid territorial gains". The secretary of state expressed hope that Ghani would "understand the urgency" of his tone, according to the letter.
Earlier in February, the Pentagon said in a statement that Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin promised the US would not leave Afghanistan in a hasty manner.
The statement was preceded by former President Donald Trump announcing significant reductions in the American military contingent in Afghanistan at the end of his presidential tenure, with the troop number slashed from about 14,000 to 2,500.
The agreement also stipulates the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and US cooperation with the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government and Washington's non-interference in Kabul's internal affairs.
In return, the Taliban is obliged to take steps to prevent terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda*, from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the US and its allies.
*al-Qaeda, a terrorist group banned in Russia and a number of other countries