Explainer Mailbag: Count the Allies

A few more countries with troops in Iraq.

Last Friday, Explainer took a swing at estimating the number of allied troops currently in Iraq. The American (145,000 troops), British (11,000), and Australian (1,000) figures were easy enough to find; much tougher was getting precise numbers on soldiers of other nationalities, since the Pentagon isn’t keeping a running tally for public consumption. After ticking off the Danes, Lithuanians, Albanians, Poles, and a few others, Explainer appealed to readers to kick in whatever additional troop intelligence they had handy.

Of the 30-odd responses, about half didn’t quite conform to our strict rules. Only troops actually on the ground within Iraq’s borders count, which excludes nations that have promised to send peacekeepers next month or this fall. So, our apologies to the reportedly soon-to-arrive forces from Georgia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mongolia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. And we’re looking for more-or-less exact figures of verifiable authenticity, so sketchy tips about South African mercenaries, alas, had to be disregarded.

Finnish reader Kerkko Paananen noted that Explainer gave short shrift to 43 Estonian soldiers who are serving under Centcom’s operative command. That includes 32 infantrymen on patrol in Baghdad’s Abu Ghuraybi district and 11 logistics specialists at the U.S. Air Force base in Talil. Paananen went the extra yard by adding that the Baghdad-based Estonians are outfitted with Galil SAR automatic rifles, MG-3 machine guns, Carl-Gustav and AT4 mortars, Browning pistols, and hand grenades.

Another reader pointed out that 28 Macedonian troops are among the peacekeepers, having arrived in the Taji (about 30 kilometers north of Baghdad) in early June. No word on specifically what sidearms they’ll be brandishing, though the Web site does note that the Macedonians will be tooling around in several Hummers.

There was much mailbag debate as to the exact number of Dutch troops currently in Iraq. Today, in fact, the U.S. Marines will officially hand over control of Iraq’s Al-Muthanna province to a coterie of Dutch peacekeepers. However, reports that the Netherlands has more than 1,000 soldiers in Iraq are greatly exaggerated. According to the Dutch Ministry of Defense, the nation currently has 353 military personnel in Al-Muthanna, 12 in Basra, 103 in Tallil, and 2 in Baghdad. Another 701 are in Kuwait, which qualifies as “close but no cigar” according to Explainer’s rules.

A few Norwegians dropped notes to (very politely) alert Explainer that more than 100 of their countrymen were reportedly pitching in with the peacekeeping. Indeed, the  Norwegian Department of Defence confirms that an advance party of 26 engineers left for Basra on June 26 and has since been joined by an additional 104 troops from the Telemark Battalion.

One eagle-eyed reader inquired as to the fate of the Hungarian transport company lampooned in a recent Washington Post article for offering truck drivers, but no trucks. Turns out the story ruffled some feathers in Budapest, compelling the U.S. Embassy there to formally disavow some snarky quotes in the article (attributed to an anonymous Pentagon official). An advance team of about 10 Hungarians are now in Iraq, setting up camp for the 130 or so drivers who will arrive in late August or early September. As it looks now, they will be driving American vehicles.

The award for most random troop contributor goes to Singapore, though it’s a stretch to refer to their involvement as military in nature. Singapore-based reader Dale Edmonds pointed out that the city-state has sent 30 police officers to Baghdad to help train a new crop of Iraqi cops.

Hardest to pin down was the number of Canadians currently in Iraq. North-of-the-border reader Chris Glebe says there are over 100 Canadians helping out, while several Canadian papers have fixed the number at 31. A flack from Canada’s Department of National Defence confirmed the nation’s manpower contribution, despite Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s public reservations about the war. Though she said, yes, there were 31 Canadian “exchange soldiers” in Iraq at one point—that is, military personnel on loan to the Americans, British, and Australians—the number now is likely a tad lower due to rotation schedules. How much lower? A follow-up call with a DND higher-up discovered that only four Canadians remain—two under British command, one with the Americans, and one “liaison.”

Next question?