CAMBRIDGE, MA -- November 11 -- I am a defense policy analyst working for an independent think tank in Cambridge, MA. A few weeks ago I was preparing for a briefing we organized in Washington called "Stretched too thin? The Effect of Recent Military Operations on America's Armed Forces" <http://www.comw.org/pda/041022milops.html >. I was putting together some numbers on Army operational deployments overseas during the past decade.My task appeared to be simple, but it would prove difficult. And it would end up revealing a substantial error in Army personnel accounting.
One of the places I was looking for data was a quarterly personnel statistics report < http://web1.whs.osd.mil/mmid/military/miltop.htm > produced by the DoD Directorate for Information Operations and Reports.This report gives a snapshot in time of where troops are located, listing numbers of active component personnel (down to the single digits) stationed or deployed to 140 countries. However, it contained enough accounting anomalies (1) to make it impossible to use this report to arrive at an accurate number of active component personnel deployed to OIF or OEF, currently the two most important operational deployments.It was likewise impossible to determine from its tables the total number of personnel stationed or deployed overseas.
I was also looking for information on the U.S. Army's Operations Webpage < http://www.army.mil/operations/ >. I noted that it stated that: "There are approx. 333,000 Soldiers deployed overseas in 120 countries."Similar statements appear in the annual Army Posture Statement, in Army PowerPoint briefings, and frequently end up in press articles.(2)
While the accompanying flash graphic illustrates six overseas deployments totaling 172,500 Army personnel and 3000 in "other operations/exercises around the globe," it also includes 17,000 soldiers deployed to Operation Noble Eagle (homeland defense) in the United States, and unspecified numbers of soldiers engaged at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA, and the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany.
If we add up the specified troops in this graphic it totals 192,500. Adding 15,000 as a very generous estimate of the troops deployed to unit training at the three training facilities it totals 207,500, still 125,500 short of the total mentioned in the caption.
Even adding in troops in units permanently based in Europe (less those deployed to the Iraqi theatre) and elsewhere, the total reaches only about 250,000 ---- 83,000 short of 333,000.
I decided to request clarification of the apparent discrepancies from Army HQ. On 18 October I received a call back from my public affairs contact at Army HQ who informed me that "the latest number of soldier deployed to 120 countries is 269,000." She also said that the Army Operations Webpage < http://www.army.mil/operations/ > would be updated to reflect this latest number. She said she was still awaiting the requested break out of the components of the total. I also received an email from the Army Website content coordinator who wrote: "I will be working closely with the soldiers in the Pentagon's operations center for the remainder of this month to get a more accurate snapshot of forces deployed. Since there are soldiers serving in 120 countries, and since we list just the major operations, the numbers will never add up. Add to that the matter of security in which some numbers are not reported. The listing will be updated on a monthly basis, so intermediate changes will not be reflected."
As of 08 November 2004 the deployment graphic on the Army Operations Webpage has been updated. Rather than referring to "deployed overseas," the caption now reads: "Areas of Operations: 272,000 Soldiers are serving in 120 countries." The accompanying flash graphic illustrates six overseas deployments totaling 170,600 Army personnel. It also includes 17,000 soldiers deployed to Operation Noble Eagle (homeland defense) in the United States, and the unspecified numbers of soldiers engaged at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA, and the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany.
It is noteworthy that the Army has come down from 333,000 to 272,000 deployed ("serving.") Certainly 61,000 troops have not re-deployed from overseas (or otherwise to home bases in Germany or Italy) in the last month -- any net re-deployments would be on the order of a few thousands. I still don't know from the Army what the component parts of the old or new sum are; for instance, how many are deployed in the U.S.,how many are on training deployments, and how many are on war fighting deployments.
How do I explain this Army counting error of 18%? It seems likely to me that Army HQ copywriters fell victim to the confusing presentation and lack of precision in the reporting of personnel numbers by the Directorate for Information Operations and Reports (as discussed above and in FN #1.) In short they double-counted.
The fact that official sources are producing mistaken information is disturbing. It is more so that this misinformation is quickly picked up and repeated in the press. Already this year we have witnessed the Department of State embarrassed when their annual incidence of terror report was shown to have significant inaccuracies.(3)
This sloppiness in the bureaucracy may be the result of a "cascade effect" from the attitudes of the highest government leaders who seem to have few qualms about playing fast and loose with the facts they present to the American public. Hopefully the press will henceforth demand higher standards from DoD in the reporting of basic facts about the Armed Forces of the United States.
1. Problematic accounts include: Afghanistan has 0 troops associated with it and a parenthetical saying"(not available.)" There is no listing for Uzbekistan, a country which has hosted U.S. SOFs engaged in OEF. It was last listed in this report on 30 September 2002. Iraq and Kuwait have 0 troops and a parenthetical saying "(See OIF Table.)" The OIF Table has a line labeled "Total (In/around Iraq as of March 31, 2004)" with a parenthetical saying "(OIF data subject to change.)" The OIF total number includes Army Reserve and Army National Guard troops deployed to the Iraqi theatre. In one quarterly report from 2003 the AC and RC personnel in the OIF table were broken out, but not since. This introduces an inconsistency into the report --- the main table covers only active component personnel (the Total Worldwide is equal to Army active component endstrength.) There is a line item at the end of the main table labeled "Undistributed (Includes some OIF.)" This serves as a reconciliation line (bringing the sum of personnel distributed to countries in the main table into alignment with endstrength.) It also appears to be made up of mostly personnel deployed to either OIF or OEF, but also includes unspecified others. For the Army in March 2004 the undistributed number was fairly small (2553), but the total for all services of 33,421 is quite large. The numbers aggregated in the OIF table are double-counted in the CONUS, Germany, and Italy counts (as noted in the table), but the precise number so double-counted is not provided.
2. See, for example, Jim Miklaszewski, "Is the Army Stretched Too Thin?," NBC News, 9 March 2004, Mark Thompson and Michael Duffy, "Is The Army Stretched Too Thin?," Time Magazine, 1 September 2003; Joseph Galloway, "It's Time to Rethink the Size of U.S. Army," KRT Syndicate, August 2003; and Ann Scott Tyson, "Troop morale in Iraq hits 'rock bottom'", Christian Science Monitor, 07 July 2003.
3. "Correction to Global Patterns of Terrorism Will be Issued," Press Statement, Richard Boucher, Department of State Spokesman, Washington, DC, June 10, 2004
"After learning of possible discrepancies in the first week of May, the Department of State and the Terrorist Threat Integration Center initiated a review of the data published in the 2003 edition of "Patterns of Global Terrorism." A May 17th letter from Congressman Waxman added impetus to our efforts.
"The data in the report was compiled by the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which was established in January 2003 and includes elements from the CIA, FBI and Departments of Homeland Security and Defense. Based on our review, we have determined that the data in the report is incomplete and in some cases incorrect. Here at the Department of State, we did not check and verify the data sufficiently.
"At our request, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center is revising the statistics for calendar year 2003. While we are still checking data for accuracy and completeness, we can say that our preliminary results indicate that the figures for the number of attacks and casualties will be up sharply from what was published. As soon as we are in a position to, we will issue corrected numbers, a revised analysis, and revisions to the report."