The Department of Defense pushed back on a letter that the AFP and Reuters claimed that they verified on Monday which stated that U.S. forces were preparing an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
Secretary of State Mark Esper quickly pushed back on the letter after it was released, saying, “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.”
“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 also dismissed the letter, saying, “That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released…poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening.”
A U.S. national security official told the AP, on the condition of anonymity, that “this is not a movement of U.S. forces out of the country.”
Esper doubled down after the press conference, telling reporters, “There’s been no decision to leave Iraq. Period.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley: “That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released…poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening” https://t.co/P3BdjLUYsc
— Ryan Browne (@rabrowne75) January 6, 2020
The letter that AFP and Reuters claimed that they verified stated the following:
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.
President Donald Trump told reporters over the weekend that if Iraq forced the U.S. military to leave that he would hit them with very tough sanctions.
“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there,” Trump said of Iraq. “It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”
“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” Trump continued. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”