United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that the U.S. has no plans to withdraw its 5,000 troops from Iraq after reports from Reuters and AFP claimed that the U.S. military wrote to Iraq Monday announcing it would begin to pull out of the country and would reposition its forces over the next few days and weeks.
Trump Threatens Iraq With Sanctions Over US Troop Withdrawal
"There's been no decision to leave Iraq. Period,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon in an off-camera briefing.
The defense secretary was referring to the reports from a letter on which the head of Combined Joint Task Force Iraq, General William H. Seely III, informed the Iraqi government of preparations to reposition the coalition forces “in due deference to the sovereignty” of Iraq.
The authenticity of the letter, which was addressed to the Iraqi defense ministry's Combined Joint Operations Baghdad, was confirmed to Reuters independently by an Iraqi military source.
"That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it should not have been released," Seely told reporters. U.S. Army public relations officials said earlier it was real, but insisted that the U.S. will no leave the Arab nation.
On Sunday, President Donald Trump said that if Iraq forces the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel it would have to pay the costs of the U.S. airbase built there or prepare for sanctions so "strong that those imposed on Iran would pale in comparison."
Trump’s statements come after Iraqi parliamentarians passed a resolution on Sunday, supported by the country's interim prime minister, calling on the Iraqi government to expel foreign troops by canceling a request for military assistance from the U.S.-led coalition.
The resolution states that some of the foreign troops could remain in Iraq for training, but Iraqi authorities should report on the number of foreign instructors deemed necessary.
Some 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, most in an advisory role. These troops are based in several parts of the country, including the Al-Anbar and Nineveh provinces that border neighboring Syria.
The U.S. has used these bases in Nineveh and Al-Anbar to reinforce and resupply their forces inside Syria as they continue operations against the Islamic State.