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By W. Gardner Selby February 21, 2014

David Alameel airs outdated count of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and incomplete information on possible reductions

Calling for an end to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, Democratic U.S. Senate aspirant David Alameel cited troop counts that made us wonder.

Alameel, a Dallas investor and Army veteran, said in a Feb. 7, 2014, email blast: "It’s long past time to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home. It has been more than 12 years and more than 40,000 troops are still stationed in Afghanistan with no clear objective."

"Even in the best case," his email also said, "by the end of the year at least 10,000 American soldiers will still be on the ground."

We can’t judge any "clear objective," but current and expected U.S. troop counts are checkable.

And to our inquiry, a Pentagon spokeswoman, Elissa Smith, shortly sent a chart by email showing U.S. troop levels in that country from November 2001, after 9/11, to February 2014, when there were 34,000 American troops there, down from 46,000 at the start of December 2013. According to the government, more than 2,100 U.S. troops have died in the conflict.

A January 2014 report by the authoritative Congressional Research Service summarized the build-up of American troops in Afghanistan and the build-down. "The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, was reduced to a ‘pre-surge’ level of about 66,000 by September 2012, and is expected to fall to 34,000 in February 2014," the report said. "The ‘residual force’ that will likely remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is expected to consist of about 6,000-10,000 U.S. trainers and counterterrorism forces, assisted by about 5,000 partner forces performing similar missions."

The report continued: "The U.S. troops that remain after 2014 would do so under a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that has been negotiated but which President Hamid Karzai, despite significant Afghan public and elite backing for the agreement, refuses to sign until additional conditions he has set down are met."

More up-to-date information was available when Alameel spoke.

By email, Alameel campaign spokeswoman Suzie Dundas pointed out two news reports on troop levels by CBS News, which attributed figures to the U.S. military. A Jan. 9, 2014, CBS News news story said that roughly 38,000 "American service members remain in Afghanistan."

We spotted one higher U.S. troop count, which Dundas ultimately said was the basis of Alameel’s statement. As of the end of 2013, according to a Jan. 10, 2014, report on Afghanistan by the Brookings Institution, roughly 43,000 U.S. troops were in Afghanistan. In contrast, the Pentagon’s chart indicates 38,500 U.S. troops were there at the start of January and about 34,000 U.S. troops there just before Alameel spoke.

Featured Fact-check

And what about troops expected to be there at the end of 2014?

According to a Jan. 22, 2014, CBS News report noted by Dundas, the Pentagon had just proposed leaving 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 and drawing down the number of troops to zero by the end of 2016.

But other news stories published at the same time said President Barack Obama had been presented with a recommendation including the possibility of having no troops in Afghanistan by year’s end. A Jan. 22, 2014, New York Times news article specified that the Pentagon had proposed that 10,000 troops remain in Afghanistan when the international combat mission ends there later in 2014--or no troops at all.

The Times story also said 10,000 troops are "around the minimum number officials say is required to protect the remaining diplomatic, military and intelligence personnel and installations in the country," Caitlin M. Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, was quoted as saying that Obama "has not yet made decisions about final troop numbers," which Smith, the Pentagon spokeswoman, reaffirmed to us.

Similarly, other news articles--like the Times, quoting unidentified officials--said the recommendation to Obama was to reduce troop levels to 10,000 or to go to zero.

Stars and Stripes, a newspaper serving members of the military based in the Department of Defense but operating independently from it, quoted officials as saying the recommendation came from Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. and NATO coalition commander in Afghanistan, who discussed it during a meeting of the White House National Security Council. The Wall Street Journal said in its story: "Military leaders told Mr. Obama that if he rejects the 10,000-troop option, then it would be best to withdraw nearly all military personnel at the end of this year because a smaller troop presence wouldn't offer adequate protection to U.S. personnel, said officials involved in the discussions."

Our ruling

Alameel, who advocates ending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, said more than 40,000 U.S. troops remain there now and under his "best-case" scenario, at least 10,000 will remain at the end of 2014.

This claim may have been close in spirit, but it aired outdated information. There were about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan just before Alameel piped up though there had been more than 40,000 troops there as of December 2013. Also by the time the candidate spoke, a general had reportedly recommended reducing U.S. troop levels to 10,000--or zero--by the end of this year, though no decision had been announced.

We rate this claim, which overstates both the troops there now and the possible number of troops by year’s end, as Half True.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Email blast from David Alameel, U.S. Senate candidate, Feb. 7, 2014

Emails (excerpted), Suzie Dundas, press secretary, David Alameel campaign, Feb. 13-14, 2014

Chart, "U.S. Troops in Afghanistan," information provided to PolitiFact Texas by email from Elissa Smith, commander, Public Affairs/Press Operations/Pentagon, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Feb. 13, 2014

Report, "Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy," Congressional Research Service, Jan. 17, 2014 (accessed Feb. 13, 2014)

News story, "U.S. Military Eyes Afghan Force of 10,000, or a Pullout," New York Times, Jan. 21, 2014 (accessed Feb. 13, 2014)

News story, "Reports: US military wants 10,000 troops or none in post-2014 Afghanistan," Stars and Stripes, Jan. 22, 2014 (Nexis search)

News story, "U.S. Military Proposal Seeks Shorter Afghan Stay," Wall Street Journal, posted online Jan. 21, 2014 (accessed Feb. 14, 2014)

Report, "Afghanistan Index," the Brookings Institution, Jan. 10, 2014 (accessed Feb. 13, 2014)

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More by W. Gardner Selby

David Alameel airs outdated count of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and incomplete information on possible reductions

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