A senior US military commander in the operation against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, James Jarrard, got into a muddle when asked about the exact number of US troops in Syria.

During his press briefing on Tuesday, the US Army major general got confused by a simple question from a journalist regarding the scale of the US presence in Syria, and needed a colleague from the Pentagon to intervene.

At first, Jarrard said that there are 5,000 US troops in the region, but immediately corrected himself, lowering the figure to 4,000.

“I think it’s a little over 4,000 US troops in Syria right now that are supporting efforts against Daesh [IS], and supporting the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces],” he told Pentagon reporters in response to a question about the number of American troops in the region.

The figure provided was several times bigger than the official data, which stunned the journalist and forced the general to apologize. He said his original answer had been a ‘slip of the tongue’ when he was asked to confirm the figure.

“I’m sorry. I misspoke there. There are approximately 500 troops in Syria,” the military official said, prompting laughter from some journalists in the room. His Pentagon colleague, who was hosting the briefing, had to clarify the numbers, confirming that there are some 503 troops in Syria and 5,262 in Iraq.

The matter came up again during the briefing, as another journalist repeated the same question “for the sake of the record.” This time, Jarrard said that there are 503 coalition forces in Syria and said that he did not have the number for Iraq “on the top” of this head.

Washington is engaged in the military campaign in Syria that has been repeatedly called “illegitimate” by Damascus, which sees the US presence in its country as an intervention.

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