In the letter, released Monday, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III said that U.S. forces “respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” A U.S. military official confirmed the letter’s authenticity.
But on a day of confusion, Esper said he could not confirm the authenticity of the letter because he had seen it only after it was leaked, adding that it is “inconsistent with where we are right now.”
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter incorrectly implies withdrawal and “was a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.”
Asked whether the U.S. military was prepared to strike Iranian cultural sites, as President Trump has suggested, Esper said the military would “follow the laws of armed conflict.”
Esper said that the United States remains prepared for any contingency with regard to Iran and that the message to Tehran is that the “ball remains in their court.”
Here are key points of what we know:
●The U.S. military said in a letter to Iraqi officials that it will reposition troops within Iraq in preparation for a possible withdrawal, but Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said shortly after that the United States has not made any decision to leave Iraq.
●Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was “a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.”
●Lawmakers are expected to be briefed by top U.S. officials on the strike that killed Soleimani, according to three people familiar with the plans.
●The Pentagon has told the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group to be ready to support Middle East operations, a defense official said.
●The funeral in Tehran for Soleimani was a stark display of his importance to the regime.
●In the aftermath of the strike that killed Soleimani, Iran has discarded more internationally mandated curbs on its nuclear program.
Defense minister says no decision on pulling Canadian troops from Iraq, calls situation ‘complex’
TORONTO — Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said Monday that no decision has been made to pull Canadian troops from Iraq and stressed the need for de-escalation in the region.
In a television interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Sajjan said that the Iraqi parliament’s decision to pass a nonbinding resolution calling on all foreign troops to leave the country created a “complex” situation.
“We know the current situation is now far more complicated, and we have to accept their process,” he said, “but it is more complicated than just one vote.”
Canada has hundreds of military personnel in Iraq as part of both the NATO mission and the global coalition fighting the Islamic State. It has suspended both of those missions, but Sajjan said he hopes they will continue.
He told the CBC that Canada has taken the “appropriate steps for force protection” in Iraq and that some “nonessential” personnel have been moved out of the country in the wake of Soleimani’s killing.
Asked if U.S. officials had given Canada notice of their plan to kill the Iranian general, Sajjan said that Canada had “an indication something was going to happen” but “did not know what was going to happen.”
In a television interview on Monday with CTV News, Sajjan condemned Iran’s actions in the region but would not comment on whether he thought Soleimani’s killing was legal.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted on Monday that he met with Sajjan and Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defense staff, in the morning. He said the safety of Canadians in the region is his “top priority.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman denies reports that intelligence that led to U.S. killing of Soleimani was razor-thin
WASHINGTON — Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied reports that the intelligence that led to the U.S. killing of Soleimani was razor-thin.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Milley said “very, very few people saw the intelligence,” which he said demonstrated that Soleimani was planning imminent operations against U.S. forces in the region.
“I would be happy when the appropriate time comes, in front of proper committees and anybody else, in history, I will stand by the intelligence I saw. That was compelling. It was imminent. It was very, very clear in scale/scope,” Milley said.
“Did it exactly say who, what, when, where? No. But he was planning, coordinating and synchronizing significant combat operations against U.S. military forces in the region — and it was imminent,” Milley added.
Milley said he wouldn’t give any more details about the intelligence because such a disclosure would jeopardize the sources and methods of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
“I know people say, well, you’re hiding behind it, and you lie. That’s not true. I know what I saw,” Milley said.
“Those of us who were involved in the decision-making of that, we would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” Milley added.
Iran’s mission to U.N. says it has not received notice that its foreign minister will be denied entry to U.S.
WASHINGTON — A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in an email that the mission has “not received any official communication” from the United States or the United Nations regarding Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s visa, after a report in Foreign Policy magazine that the Trump administration is blocking Zarif from entering the country. According to the report, Zarif requested a visa weeks ago to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting.
Trump overstates military spending and readiness as conflict looms
WASHINGTON — In recent days, Trump has made several claims that U.S. military equipment is ready for a potential conflict with Iran, claiming in a tweet Sunday that the United States has spent “Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment” that could be used to hit Iran “very fast and very hard.”
But Trump has actually spent closer to $420 billion on military equipment since he was elected, according to Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The rest of the money was spent on personnel, operations and maintenance, and research and development.
In response to Trump threat, Iran’s president invokes 1988 tragedy many Americans have forgotten
WASHINGTON — On Saturday, Trump invoked history when tweeting out a threat to destroy “52 Iranian sites … some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” He said the potential targets represent the 52 Americans who were held hostage there for 444 days from 1979 to 1981.
On Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also invoked history in response to Trump’s threat. “Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655 Never threaten the Iranian nation,” he wrote.
His hashtag “#IR655” refers to Iran Air Flight 655, a commercial jet shot down by the U.S. military by mistake July 3, 1988, killing all 290 civilians and crew on board, including 66 children. Though the incident is nearly forgotten now in the United States, it is etched deeply in memory in Iran, where the country is mourning the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.
U.S. general calls letter to Iraqis an honest mistake
WASHINGTON — After the U.S. military’s letter describing plans to reposition troops within Iraq in preparation for a possible withdrawal leaked, Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East. McKenzie told him the draft letter was an honest mistake, “but used other words that were a little more colorful than mistake,” Milley said.
The U.S. military drafted the letter because it is moving forces around the region, within Iraq and from Kuwait into Iraq, and anticipates increased helicopter movement, Milley said, noting that draft letters are often coordinated with partners in advance, but are circulated without the signature of the official sending the communication.
The leaked letter wasn’t signed. Milley said that McKenzie, the top U.S. commander overseeing the Middle East, said the letter should never have happened. “We understand U.S. government policy — nobody is leaving, there’s no onward movement, we got all that. Honest mistake. Draft,” Milley said McKenzie told him.
Esper says U.S. has not made any decision to leave Iraq; Milley calls letter to Iraqi officials ‘poorly worded’ and ‘a mistake’
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said during a briefing at the Pentagon that the United States has not made any decision to leave Iraq.
“We are repositioning forces throughout the region … beyond that, with regard to that letter, which I have read once, I can’t tell you the veracity of that letter, I can tell you what I read, that letter is inconsistent with where we are right now,” Esper said.
Milley said the letter was a draft that the U.S. military sent to Iraqi military officials for coordination purposes but hasn’t been signed or finalized.
“That letter — it was a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released,” Milley said. “And the first part of it, which says ‘repositioning forces over the course of the coming days to prepare for onward movement’ … [was] poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That is not what’s happening.”
Asked whether the U.S. military was prepared to strike Iranian cultural sites, as President Trump has suggested, Esper said the military would “follow the laws of armed conflict.” Asked whether that means no, because international law prohibits targeting such sites during war, Esper said: “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”
Esper said the United States remains prepared for any contingency with regard to Iran, and the message to Tehran is that the “ball remains in their court.”
U.S. military says it will reposition troops in Iraq in preparation for possible withdrawal
WASHINGTON — In a draft letter released Monday, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III said that U.S. forces will be relocated “to prepare for onward movement” and that “we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” A U.S. military official confirmed the letter’s authenticity.
The letter was released one day after Iraqi lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country. But because Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in November and is now acting only as a caretaker, he was not authorized to sign it into law.
But a defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity said the letter was “Gen Seely’s attempt to notify the Iraqis that we are going to be moving people around Iraq … This is not an indication that we’re leaving.” The official said that because the United States had suspended at least some training activities, it was moving training-related forces out of Iraq and bringing force protection forces into the country. “We’re not making plans to leave,” the official said.
Senators expected to be briefed by Pompeo, Esper, Milley and Haspel
WASHINGTON — Senators are expected to receive a briefing Wednesday afternoon from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and CIA director Gina Haspel about the strike on Soleimani, according to three people familiar with plans.
House members are also expected to receive a similar briefing, but the time for their session had not been set as of midday Monday, people familiar with the matter said.
Iran releases satellite images showing crowds gathered for Soleimani’s funeral
WASHINGTON — Iran released photos Monday that showed massive crowds attending a funeral ceremony for Soleimani and others killed in the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad last Friday.
Millions of people, most clad in black, attended the services Monday, according to Iranian state media. Other photos showed Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei, weeping as he presided over the ceremony.
Chevron pulls foreign workers out of Iraqi Kurdistan as ‘precautionary measure’
WASHINGTON — Chevron announced Monday that it has pulled out expatriates working in its oil fields in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan. A company spokesperson described it as “a precautionary measure.”
The California-based oil giant shut down drilling in the region in 2015 because of the threat posed by Islamic State fighters at the time. Drilling resumed in 2017.
For now, in contrast, work is continuing in the Kurdish fields with all-local workers. The company characterized the decision to withdraw foreign workers as “not a huge evacuation,” but it would not provide details on the numbers of people involved.
Pentagon tells force of 4,500 sailors and Marines to be ready to support Middle East operations if necessary
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has told the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, a force of about 4,500 sailors and Marines aboard Navy ships, to be ready to support operations in the Middle East if required, a defense official said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The official declined to specify the location of the group, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan. A second official said Friday that the ships were approaching the Mediterranean Sea and could be called upon if needed.
The decision could bolster the number of U.S. troops in the region by about 10,000, as the Trump administration and Iranian officials threaten each other following numerous attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and the U.S. killing of Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad last week.
Those troop increases come on top of the Pentagon’s deployment of an additional 14,000 troops to the Middle East in 2019, citing the need to counter Iranian aggression.
E.U. foreign ministers to hold emergency meeting Friday to respond to Iran crisis
BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Friday in Brussels to discuss how to respond to the escalating crisis with Iran, diplomats said Monday, including whether Europe starts the process that could lead to the eventual reimposition of sanctions on Iran.
The unusual gathering will give Europeans a chance to coordinate plans among all 28 member states. Leaders have been reluctant to publicly condemn the United States for Soleimani’s killing, focusing most of their ire on Iran, which they view as the core threat to their security interests. But they have invested more than a year of efforts to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal following Trump’s pullout. Many European diplomats view Soleimani’s death as the final blow to hopes that the accord could hold together until the possible election in November of a U.S. president more supportive of the nuclear agreement than Trump.
Iran on Sunday announced that it would take major additional steps to depart from the terms of the nuclear accord, although it stopped short of saying it would significantly increase its uranium enrichment. Europeans took that as a sign that Tehran is still interested in extracting concessions in exchange for returning to at least partial adherence to the deal, rather than walking away from it altogether.
Triggering the process that could lead to the reimposition of sanctions would entail additional months of negotiations. If sanctions were reimposed, that would likely mark the end of any effort by Iran to uphold the deal.
Iraqi prime minister meets U.S. ambassador after lawmakers call for U.S. troops to leave the country
BAGHDAD — Matthew H. Tueller, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, met Monday with Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, one day after Iraqi lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave Iraq. Abdul Mahdi resigned in November and is not authorized to sign the bill into law, but he urged lawmakers ahead of the vote to take “urgent measures” to force foreign troops to withdraw.
In a statement Monday, Abdul Mahdi’s office said he stressed to Tueller “the need for joint cooperation to implement the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with the decision of the Iraqi parliament.”
The statement said Abdul Mahdi noted “that Iraq is making all possible efforts to prevent the slide into open war.”