A leaked letter from the U.S. military to Iraq that created impressions of an imminent U.S. withdrawal on Monday was instead a poorly worded draft document meant to only underscore increased movement of forces, the top U.S. general told reporters.
"Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That's not what's happening," U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of reporters, stressing there was no withdrawal being planned.
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"There's been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, when asked about the letter, adding there had also been no plans issued to prepare to leave.
"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."
Mourners burn a U.S. flag during the funeral of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2020.AP Photo/Nasser Nasser
Esper added the United States was still committed to countering Islamic State in Iraq, alongside America's allies and partners.
Several helicopters could be heard flying over Baghdad on Monday night. It was not immediately clear if this was a related development. The letter said coalition forces would be using helicopters to evacuate.
"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," read a letter from United States Marine Corps Brigadier General William H. Seely III, the commanding general of Task Force Iraq.