- The US military mistakenly sent a draft letter to the Iraqi government, specifically the Ministry of Defense, on Monday that appeared to announce a troop withdrawal.
- The unsigned letter, dated Jan. 6, 2020, from Marine Brig. Gen. William Seely III states that the US military would be "repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement," specifically "movement out of Iraq."
- Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters Monday afternoon that "there's been no decision made to leave Iraq."
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley clarified to reporters that the letter was a "mistake" and should not have been released.
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The Department of Defense says it is not pulling US troops out of Iraq after a draft letter was mistakenly sent Monday to the Iraqi military suggesting otherwise.
"There has been no change in US policy with regard to our force presence in Iraq," the Pentagon said in a statement.
An unsigned draft letter from Marine Brig. Gen. William Seely III that began circulating Monday afternoon, states that the US military will be "repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement," specifically "movement out of Iraq."
The letter, a copy of which was posted on Twitter, said that the US was taking these steps "in due deference to the sovereignty of Iraq."
-Liz Sly (@LizSly) January 6, 2020
Dated January 6, 2020, the letter appears to have been drafted following a vote by Iraqi lawmakers the day before to kick US troops out Iraq, a response to a US drone strike days earlier that killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general who commanded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force.
"We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure," the letter says.
The Pentagon initially expressed confusion about the letter's origins. "I don't know what that letter is," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters Monday afternoon after the letter surfaced on social media. "We're trying to find out where that's coming from, what that is. But there's been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period."
Following Esper's comments, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley clarified to reporters that the letter "was a mistake - an honest mistake."
"It was sent over to some Iraqi military guys in order get things coordinated for air movement, etc. And it went from that guy's hands into another guy's hands and then it went into your hands and now it's a kerfuffle. It's all over the news," he explained, according to a transcript from Task & Purpose.
Telling reporters that the letter was "poorly worded" in that it "implies withdrawal, the general said "that letter is a draft. It was a mistake. It was unsigned. It should not have been released." While the US is repositioning forces, it is not pulling troops out of the country.
US officials responding to concerned Iraqi officials, according to The Daily Beast, told them "not to worry about it."