Donald and Melania Trump make surprise visit to US troops in Iraq
President Trump, who has been criticized for not visiting US troops during the holidays, slipped off to an air base in Iraq on Wednesday.
Trump, wearing a dark suit and red tie, and first lady Melania Trump met with military personnel on Wednesday at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq just west of Baghdad – his first visit with military members in a war zone since he entered the White House almost two years ago.
He told the gathered servicemen and women, many of whom were wearing fatigues, that he has “no plans at all” to pull them out of the country, where they’ve been helping Iraq forces battle Islamic State terrorists.
The commander-in-chief also defended his controversial decision to withdraw the 2,000 US troops in Syria that are leading a global coalition against the terror group.
The mission in the war-torn country was never intended to be “open-ended,” Trump said, adding that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured him that he would finish the fight against ISIS.
“I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It’s time for us to start using our head,” he told the troops.
Besides, he said, if needed, the US can attack the terrorists “so fast and so hard” that they “won’t know what the hell happened.”
President Trump gestures toward US troops during his visit to Iraq on the day after Christmas.Reuters
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders posted photos on her Twitter page showing Trump and his wife posing with the troops after the super-secret trip.
“President Trump and the First Lady traveled to Iraq late on Christmas night to visit with our troops and Senior Military leadership to thank them for their service, their success, and their sacrifice and to wish them a Merry Christmas,” she said in a posting.
National Security Adviser John Bolton accompanied them on the trip.
Trump, who has boasted that he’s done more for the US military than any of his predecessors, has been blasted for not visiting the troops in an active combat zone.
In November he canceled a trip to a rainy cemetery outside Paris where Americans killed in World War I are buried and took flak for not traveling to nearby Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.
“I will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary,” the president told the Associated Press in an interview in October. “I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here.”
Trump was scheduled to spend 16-days over the holidays in Mar-a-Lago but changed plans and decided to remain at the White House after his administration and congressional lawmakers couldn’t reach a deal on a Mexican border wall that resulted in a partial government shutdown.
Trump’s whereabouts Wednesday sparked a swirl of speculation about what he was up to.
President Trump addresses US troops at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.
There were several tells that something was up.
First, Trump didn’t start the day with his normal flurry of tweets.
And the Marine officer wasn’t spotted at his West Wing post all morning, suggesting the president wasn’t in the White House.
Around noon, the Reagan Battalion, a popular conservative Twitter feed, had posted a photo of what looked to be Air Force One, flying over England.
Requests for comment on the president’s whereabouts also went unanswered.
Defense Secretary James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the coalition, resigned over
Trump’s decision to pull troops from Syria.