Breaking News
More () »

US Defense Secretary: There's been no decision to leave Iraq

A letter from a U.S. Army general seemed to suggest a troop withdrawal had been ordered in response to a vote by the Iraqi Parliament over the weekend.
Credit: AP
In this photo provided by U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) 19.2, prepare to deploy from Kuwait in support of a crisis response mission, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. The SPMAGTF-CR-CC is designed to move to support operations throughout the Middle East. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Robert G. Gavaldon via AP)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday that a memo declaring U.S. troops' "onward movement" from Iraq is not accurate. "There's been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq," Esper explained.  

Esper's comments came after a leaked memo from the U.S.-led military coalition against the Islamic State said it would be "repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement."

Some news outlets interpreted the letter as saying the U.S. would be withdrawing from Iraq, but Esper says that's not the case. He told reporters Monday afternoon that his staff is "trying to figure out" what the memo was and said it may reflect troops being re-positioned in the country, but not withdrawn. 

The Iraqi Parliament voted over the weekend to expel U.S. troops. 

Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later told reporters the letter "was a mistake." He said it was a draft, poorly worded and had not been signed yet.

The letter was addressed to the Iraqi Defense Ministry's Combined Joint Operations Baghdad. The letter read, "We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” 

An image of the letter, tweeted by national military reporter Tara Copp was not signed, but the signature line read, "William H. Seely III, Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps, Commanding General, TF-Iraq" and is dated January 6, 2020. 

RELATED: Iraq moves to expel US military with parliament vote

RELATED: Trump tweets warning to Iran after it vows to avenge general's killing

A coalition source told Sky News that hundreds of US-led forces were being moved out of a base in Baghdad's Green Zone to elsewhere in the country. But the source said it's to "thin out" troops in Baghdad and that they are not leaving Iraq. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out