Update 2 (4:30pmET): In the latest update to her stream of tweets from the press conference, McClatchy reporter Tara Copp added that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Milley joined Esper during the press pow pow to confirm that the letter's publication was "a mistake."
He added that it was "poorly worded" and "had not been signed," details that were apparently overlooked during the initial press reports.
MORE BREAKING: @thejointstaff Gen. Milley came back to brief us again after looking at the letter. "It was a mistake," he said. Milley said it was a draft, poorly worded, and had not been signed. It was being worked w/ Iraqis. Bottom Line: US troops ARE NOT leaving, he said. https://t.co/L6wGYiVIkv— Tara Copp (@TaraCopp) January 6, 2020
So the letter was "genuine," but sent out by mistake, according to both Esper and now Milley.
*U.S. LETTER TO IRAQ SENT MISTAKENLY, GENERAL MILLEY SAYS— zerohedge (@zerohedge) January 6, 2020
Looks like somebody has some explaining to do.
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Update (4:05pmET): Despite the fact that news outlets have circulated a photo of the memo and cited several sources testifying to its accuracy, Defense Secretary Esper told reporters Monday afternoon that the memo was "not accurate" and that "there's been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq...we've issued no plans to leave."
Esper adds that his staff is “trying to figure out” what memo is “there are no plans to leave” - may reflect repositioning, but not a withdrawal— Tara Copp (@TaraCopp) January 6, 2020
Also, critically, @EsperDoD says US forces will “follow the laws of armed conflict” regarding the protection of cultural sites— Tara Copp (@TaraCopp) January 6, 2020
Reporters from CBS and other outlets quickly confirmed McClatchy reporter Tara Copp's reporting (Esper apparently made the statement during a press gaggle Monday afternoon). Others reported that Esper denied an NYT report claiming that assassinating Suleimani was intended as a "throwaway option" when it was presented to President Trump.
"We didn't put any option on the table that we didn't believe," Esper said.
Just in: Responding to questions about a reported letter from TF-Iraq @EsperDoD says there has been "no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq." Says he has seen the letter but doesn't know where it came from. CJCS Gen. Milley notes it is not signed.— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) January 6, 2020
In response to reports that killing Suilemani was a throwaway option DOD didn't think Trump would choose, Esper says "We didn’t put any option on the table that we didn’t believe." DOD presented pros and cons, costs and benefits of each option.— Lara Seligman (@laraseligman) January 6, 2020
To sum up: The Pentagon is now denying a letter penned by a brigadier general, which sounds like one hand doesn't know what the other is doing.
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As it turns out, President Trump's decision to kill Iranian General and revolutionary icon Qasem Suleimani - an attack that millions of Trump's critics warned could start WWIII - might have given the US exactly the cover it needs to pull out of Iraq, once and for all.
In a letter from Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III, obtained by AFP whose authenticity has since been confirmed by both US and Iraqi defense officials, the US Army informed Iraq that it is "preparing for onward movement" out of respect for Iraq's "sovereign decision to order our departure." Troops will be re-positioned within the country as they prepare for withdrawal.
Full letter text below:
sLTG Abdul Amir
Deputy Director, Combined Joint Operations Baghdad Iraq - Ministry of Defense
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 CH47, VH-00, 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 any perception that we may be bringing more Coalition Forces into the IZ.
As we begin implementing this next phase of operations, I wish to reiterate the value of our friendship and partnership. We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.
WILLIAM H. SEELY III
Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commanding General, TF-Iraq
Yesterday, Iraqi lawmakers voted to expel foreign troops from the country during an emergency parliamentary session. Interim Iraqi prime minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi, stressed during the session, that while the US government notified the Iraqi military of the planned strike on Soleimani, his government denied Washington permission to continue with the operation.
In a meeting Monday, Mahdi, a caretaker prime minister who said in November he would resign, told US Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller that the US and Iraq needed to cooperate "to implement the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with the decision of the Iraqi parliament," according to a statement from the PM's office that was cited by the Washington Post.
Though the Iraq war 'officially' ended in 2011, thousands of coalition troops stuck around. Their numbers increased following the rise of ISIS in the region.
Ending the US troop presence in Iraq has been a longtime goal of non-interventionists like Ron Paul and his son, Rand.
That said, even without troops in Iraq, the US will still have plenty of capacity to bully Iran, and other other regional powers.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and CIA director Gina Haspel are expected to brief the lawmakers on the situation early this week. For some unexplained reason, members of the Dem-controlled House will also attend a separate briefing (probably to go over all the possible ways that Trump's decision to kill General Suleimani could lead to the start of WWIII).
Of course, Trump has gone back on promises to pull troops before (remember Syria?), and, as we noted just moments earlier, other reports claim thousands of Marines are headed toward Iraq as we speak. In any event, over the past few years, Trump has become an expert at managing public opinion - after all he singlehandedly tweeted the market to new all time highs - and it's possible that this is simply more rhetoric. On the other hand, if the troops really do come home, it would beg the question: Was Trump playing 5-D chess after all?