At the moment, there are a maximum of 3,870 U.S. military personnel (or 7,740 actual boots on the ground) in Iraq supporting the war against the Islamic State. That’s the “official cap” imposed by the Obama administration, because everyone knows that the president and his top officials are eager to end American wars in the Middle East, not expand them. Of course, that number doesn’t include the other 1,130 American military types (or 2,260 boots) — give or take we don’t know how many — who just happen to be there on what’s called… er, um… “temporary deployments,” or are the result of overlap from rotating deployments, but add up to perhaps 5,000 trainers and advisers, or maybe, for all we know, more, including 200 Special Operations forces whose numbers are officially acknowledged by no one but mentioned in press reports. And naturally that 5,000 figure doesn’t include the American private contractors also flowing into Iraq in growing numbers to support the U.S. military because everyone knows that they aren’t either troops or boots on the ground and so don’t get counted. Those are the rules.
Do keep in mind that this time around the whole American on-the-ground operation couldn’t be more limited. Though the numbers of U.S. trainers, advisers, and Special Ops types continue to creep up, they are, at least, helping the Iraqi military reconstitute itself on Iraqi bases. In other words, this round of Washington’s Iraq wars bears no relation to the last one (2003-2011), when the Pentagon had its private contractors build hundreds of U.S. bases, ranging in size from American towns to tiny combat outposts. This time, the U.S. military has no bases of its own, not a single one… er, um… at least it didn’t until recently when an American Marine, a specialist in firing field artillery, died in an Islamic State rocket attack on what turned out to be an all-American Marine outpost, Fire Base Bell, in the northern part of the country. The artillery operations he was involved in supporting the Iraqi army in its (stalled) drive on the country’s second largest city, Mosul, are not, however, “combat operations” because it’s well established that no American troops, Special Ops units possibly excepted, are in combat in that country (or Syria). In fact, U.S. officials point out that artillery doesn’t really count as combat. It’s more like U.S. air operations against the Islamic State except… er, um… it takes place on the ground.