The United States has about 5,200 troops in Iraq and 2,000 in Syria, and those numbers are trending down, Pentagon officials said here today.
Mattis also said that the USA was adjusting its support to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mix of Kurdish and Arab troops that have led the US-backed fight against ISIS in Syria, suggesting that offensive weapons would no longer be provided to the Kurdish elements of the SDF, a change long sought by America's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey.
Manning also said on Wednesday there are about 5,200 USA troops in Iraq - a number that remains unchanged from past reports - but said that it is also shrinking. Manning said this new phase presents an opportunity to refine how the department reports troop counts to the public.
"It's approximately 2,000 now, could be more, could be less, we don't want to showcase our capabilities to the enemy", Manning said at the Pentagon.
He reiterated US support for the United Nations -led talks in Geneva peace talks. An example of this was the withdrawal of a Marine artillery unit from Syria last week.
"As the coalition stops offensive (operations), then, obviously, you don't need that, you need security - you need police forces". Manning said the delay was in an effort to "get it right".
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"Important work remains to ensure lasting defeat" of ISIS, he said.
"The United States will continue necessary counterterrorism and stabilization effort", the colonel said.
"The United States will sustain a "conditions-based" military presence in Syria to combat the threat of a terrorist-led insurgency, prevent the resurgence of ISIS, and to stabilize liberated areas". That number also is trending downward, he said, as the US -led coalition in both Iraq and Syria transition from supporting offensive combat operations against Islamic State fighters to supporting local security efforts to prevent a reemergence of IS. This includes restoring essential services, removing improvised explosive devices and booby traps and ensuring distribution of humanitarian aid.
Russia has claimed its presence is primarily to thwart jihadist groups but the Pentagon says only a tiny portion of Russian strikes have targeted IS. Allowing this to happen should set the conditions for refugees to return to their homes.
As troops enter a stabilization phase, USA officials said there will not be clear front lines as American troops support efforts to remove mines and other explosives, return displaced people to their homes and support the growth of indigenous institutions in former IS-held territory that hasn't been seized by President Bashar al-Assad - who has long called the USA presence illegitimate - or Russian and Iranian forces backing the embattled Syrian leader.
"They also do not appear to have a plan for how to bring a meaningful conclusion to the civil war that addresses the fundamental problems that led to the rise of ISIS".