On Monday, in a moment that does not inspire confidence in the Trump administration’s ability to manage a conflict with Iran, the Department of Defense accidentally sent a draft of a letter to the Iraqi government announcing the withdrawal of troops from the country after almost 17 years. “Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, [the Combined Joint Task Force] will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement,” read the letter, from Brigadier General William H. Seely III, the commanding general of Task Force Iraq, to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
After the Washington Post and Reuters reported on the letter, Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a vague and confusing denial of its contents. “We are repositioning forces throughout the region, No. 1,” Esper told reporters in an impromptu press conference. “Beyond that, with regard to the letter, which I’ve read once — I can’t tell you the veracity of that letter, and I can tell you what I’ve read. That letter is inconsistent of where we are right now.”
Shortly after Esper’s comments, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark A. Milley, told reporters that the “letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released … poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening.”
“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” the draft concludes. According to Milley’s portrayal of the situation, that sign-off seems likely to be cut from the final letter.