Trump Visits US Troops in Iraq on Unannounced Trip

President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Wednesday to talk with U.S. troops stationed there.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump landed at Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq at 7:16 p.m. local time.

They left Washington late Christmas night, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.

The trip to Iraq, where a total of about 5,200 members of the U.S. military are stationed, was Trump’s first visit to a conflict zone as president. It came a day after he held a video conference from the Oval Office with military members around the globe. After the call, he was criticized by some media outlets that said he was the first president since 2002 to not visit U.S. troops at Christmastime. 

Previous U.S. presidents have embraced the tradition of visiting U.S. troops in conflict zones, because it is seen as a morale-booster for them. President George W. Bush visited U.S. troops stationed overseas eight times during his presidency, including serving a Thanksgiving meal to soldiers in Baghdad in 2003. President Barack Obama visited troops in Baghdad in April 2009, four months after he took office. He also visited troops in Afghanistan and South Korea.

In Iraq, Trump and his wife greeted troops in a dining hall, posing for photos and signing autographs as part of the visit. They left three hours later.  

The president did not meet with any Iraqi officials during his short visit to the country, but he did speak on the phone with Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.  

Syrian withdrawal

The president last week made the controversial move of announcing plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. In his remarks to the troops in Iraq, he defended that decision, saying that the Islamic State group had been “very nearly defeated” and that the caliphate was gone. 

“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds,” Trump said, using an acronym for the militant group.

“Eight years ago, we went there for three months, and we never left,” he said, adding the U.S presence in Syria was never meant to be “open-ended.”

Trump said Turkey had agreed to eliminate any IS “remnants” in the region.

“The nations of the region must step up and take more responsibility for their future,” Trump said, adding there would be an “orderly withdrawal” of the roughly 2,000 U.S. forces in Syria.

In addition to the Syrian pullout, Trump is also considering withdrawing roughly half of the more than 14,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan, beginning next month.

Trump’s senior advisers and military officials have warned that the moves will cause further chaos in the region. 

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, both resigned, at least in part, because of disagreement over the Syria and Afghanistan policies. ​


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