Ask people in Washington right now about U.S. troops in Syria, and you’ll get a whole swath of different answers.
People have been trying to figure out just what the U.S. is doing on the ground against ISIS since President Obama first announced that U.S. soldiers would be going back to Iraq in 2014.
This has all come to the forefront in recent days after photos emerged depicting U.S. troops on the ground aiding Kurdish fighters in Syria, far closer to actually fighting ISIS than the Pentagon has ever suggested they are.
So we're going to try to break it down for you in a way that at least sort of makes sense.
Fact: There are as of now around 4,000 troops devoted to fighting against ISIS. Most of them are training Iraqi security forces.
Fact: Even though most U.S. forces deployed are tasked with training Iraqi security forces, there's actually a lot of different jobs being done.
Fact: A lot of those missions overlap and that makes it hard to break down exactly who is doing what.
Fact: The Defense Department says "fewer than 50" U.S. troops are actually playing offense against ISIS.
Fact: Even though most of the troops aren't officially considered "combat roles," some have died in combat and the White House has had trouble explaining that.
It's super confusing to be honest, even for people who have been watching closely, and it's at least a little on purpose on the part of the U.S. government. “You’re trying to describe a kaleidoscope and somebody keeps moving it,” Cordesman said.
Ali Watkins is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ali Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Hayes Brown at email@example.com.
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