TEHRAN (Press Shia) – The United States has no plans to pull its troops out of Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, following reports by Reuters and other media of an American military letter informing Iraqi officials about repositioning troops in preparation for leaving the country.
The American military letter said US-led coalition forces would use helicopters to evacuate. Several were heard flying over Baghdad on Monday night, although it was not immediately clear if that was related.
“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Esper told Pentagon reporters, adding there were no plans issued to prepare to leave, Reuters reported.
“I don’t know what that letter is … 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,” Esper said.
The letter caused confusion about the future of US forces in Iraq, who now number 5,000.
The top US military officer told reporters the letter was a draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by US forces. “Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” said Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The authenticity of the letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry’s Combined Joint Operations, had been confirmed to Reuters by an Iraqi military source.
“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 letter stated.
It was signed by US Marine Corps Brigadier General William Seely III, commanding general of the US-led military coalition. CJTF-OIR stands for Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve.
“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” the letter said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the US ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both nations needed to implement the Iraqi parliamentary resolution, the premier’s office said in a statement. It did not give a timeline.