The Pentagon clarified on Monday that U.S. troops will not be leaving Iraq, calling a letter the media circulated indicating otherwise a “mistake.”
According to Reuters and AFP, the U.S. military penned a letter about the “onward movement” of troops.
“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq. There’s no decision to leave, nor did we issue any plans to leave or prepare to leave,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday during a press conference.
“We are re-positioning forces throughout the region number one,” Esper added. “Beyond that with regard to the letter which I’ve read once. I can’t tell you the veracity of that letter and I can tell you what I’ve read. That letter is inconsistent of where we are right now.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley agreed, adding that the release of the “draft” letter was a “mistake.”
“[I]t was unsigned, it should not have been released…poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening,” he said.
In fact, more U.S. troops will be coming into Iraq from Kuwait, Milley said.
“It was a draft, unsigned letter because we are moving forces around and we have increased helicopter movement in Iraq,” Milley said.
After the press conference, Esper told reporters off camera that “There's been no decision to leave Iraq. Period."
The letter in question reads:
Sir, in due deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.
In order to conduct this task, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficient manner.
During this time, there will be an increase in helicopter travel in and around the International Zone (IZ) of Baghdad. This increased traffic will include CH-47, UH-60, and AH-64 security escort helicopters.
Coalition Forces will take appropriate measures to minimize and mitigate the disturbance to the public. In addition, we will conduct these operations during hours of darkness to help alleviate and perception that we may be bringing more Coalition Forces into the IZ.
As we begin implementing this next phase of operations, I want to reiterate the value of our friendship and partnership. We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.
BREAKING: The US military sends a letter to the Iraqi military announcing the “onward movement” of US troops “in due deference to the sovereignty of Iraq & as requested by the Iraqi Parliament & the Iraqi PM”. It’s a withdrawal. pic.twitter.com/tQHSsHTtez— Liz Sly (@LizSly) January 6, 2020
President Trump indicated over the weekend that the U.S. would not be abandoning its "extraordinarily expensive air base" in Iraq and if the Iraqis forced them out they would be hit with "sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever."