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Esper, Milley call out unsigned US troop withdrawal letter to Iraq: ‘No decision whatsoever to leave Iraq’

U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to members of the press during a joint press conference with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Oct. 11, 2019. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
January 06, 2020

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have both denounced a letter that surfaced on Monday announcing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Esper told reporters there was currently “no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq” and the letter was “inconsistent with where we are right now,” according to Huffington Post.

Gen. Milley reviewed the letter and called it “a mistake,” adding that it was a rough draft that was not approved.

“That letter — it was a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released,” Milley said. “And the first part of it, which says ‘repositioning forces over the course of the coming days to prepare for onward movement’ … [was] poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That is not what’s happening,” the Washington Post reported.

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Esper acknowledged only that U.S. troops were being repositioned throughout the region, but noted there was no merit to claims of a withdrawal.

Neither Esper nor Milley knew where the letter came from, but Esper said he was trying to determine its origin.

Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah also tweeted clarification on Monday afternoon: “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.”

“We remain committed to the D-ISIS coalition and ensuring a safe, secure, and prosperous future for the Iraqi people,” she added.

The letter, which surfaced on social media on Monday afternoon, was directed to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and was from Marine Corps. Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III, who commands Task Force Iraq.

“Sir, in 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,” the disproven letter had said.

The letter then warned of increased helicopter activity over Baghdad to process the troop withdrawal.

On Sunday, Iraq had passed a resolution ordering all foreign troops to leave the country.

The resolution said Iraq “commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting [the Islamic State extremist group] due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory.”

The Iraqi government “must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace, or water for any reason,” the resolution added.

After the resolution was announced, President Trump said U.S. forces would not leave the country unless Iraq repaid the U.S. for its airbase built there.

“We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” Trump told reporters, according to the Washington Examiner. “We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”