The Pentagon on Thursday walked back --way back -- from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s earlier claim that more that more than 100 Americans are fighting with Islamic State militants.
Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the number of turncoats is much lower.
“We believe there are approximately 100 American passport-holders inside Syria,” Warren told reporters. “We believe there are maybe a dozen (Americans) inside ISIL,” using the Pentagon’s acronym for Islamic State.
That was a big change from what Hagel, a former senator from Nebraska, had told CNN on Wednesday.
“We are aware of over 100 U.S. citizens who have U.S. passports who are fighting in the Middle East with ISIL forces,” Hagel said. “There may be more. We don’t know.”
The much smaller figure cited by Warren was even more surprising in light of U.S. intelligence officials’ previous estimates of as many as 300 Americans who may have joined forces with the Islamic State.
About 500 Brits are believed to be fighting with the group, along with hundreds more from France, Russia and other European countries.
In two gruesome videos released by ISIS since Aug. 19, showing the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, a black-shrouded figure speaks with a British accent before beheading them.