Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said a leaked U.S. letter that suggested coalition forces were preparing to leave Iraq was a “draft” and a “mistake,” contradicting reports that the U.S. planned to withdraw following a vote by Iraq’s parliament to expel foreign troops.
“That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released,” Milley told reporters. ” . . . [It was] poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening.”
Reuters and AFP first reported that a letter sent Monday to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense implied that coalition forces were planning to leave the country, only for American officials to later deny the claim.
“As we begin implementing this next phase of operations, I want to reiterate the value of our friendship and partnership,” Brigadier General William Seely, head of the U.S.-led Iraq Task Force, wrote. “We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.”
#Breaking: US military tells Iraqi Joint operations command that they are preparing to move out. pic.twitter.com/yqoFiEIHBD
— Mustafa Salim (@Mustafa_salimb) January 6, 2020
The letter’s authenticity was confirmed by multiple reports and was reportedly delivered to Iraqi officials, but U.S. officials later pushed back on the media’s characterization of the letter as signaling a “withdrawal.”
Following news of the possible withdrawal, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters that “there’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” and said that the letter does not reflect a removal of U.S. forces.
Esper adds that his staff is “trying to figure out” what memo is “there are no plans to leave” – may reflect repositioning, but not a withdrawal
— Tara Copp (@TaraCopp) January 6, 2020
“There has been no change in US policy with regard to our force presence in Iraq. We continue to consult with the Iraqi government regarding the defeat-ISIS mission and efforts to support the Iraqi Security Forces,” Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement on Twitter. “We remain committed to the D-ISIS coalition and ensuring a safe, secure, and prosperous future for the Iraqi people.”
On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted to “ask” the government to have all foreign troops to leave the country following the U.S. airstrike last week that killed Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to note that Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley says the letter was released erroneously.