President Trump makes surprise visit to Iraq with Melania in tow, says America is respected again
The first couple visited the war-torn country just days after President Trump announced victory over ISIS and ordered all US troops to be pulled out of Syria
During a surprise visit on Wednesday, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump celebrated Christmas with US troops and senior military leadership at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq.
Addressing service members at the base, Trump congratulated them for major military gains against the Islamic State terror outfit and said it was because of their efforts that he can withdraw 2,000 forces from Syria. "We're no longer the suckers, folks," he told them. "We're respected again as a nation."
However, Trump also said during his first visit to the troubled region that currently he has "no plans at all" to remove the 5,000 US troops from the country. The commander-in-chief's first visit to a combat zone came just days after his announcement about pulling troops out of Syria and speculation that he also plans to remove thousands of troops from Afghanistan, Fox News reports.
Trump reiterated his America First policies during the address and said the US mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds, not to be a "nation builder." According to him, that's a task to be shouldered by other rich nations and not America alone.
"I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds," Trump told the troops at Al Asad Air Base. He also announced that Turkey has agreed to eliminate ISIS remnants and asserted that the US presence in Syria was never meant to be "open-ended."
Taking all the necessarily stealth precautions, the president and the first lady flew 11 hours on a darkened Air Force One with lights off, window shades drawn, and flanked by jet escorts. Aside from National Security Adviser John Bolton, no other top officials or members of Congress accompanied the first couple for meetings with political and military leaders.
That said, Trump and Melania spent around three hours on the ground celebrating with the troops. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later tweeted: "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."
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. pic.twitter.com/s2hntnRwpw— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) December 26, 2018
President Trump said it was "pretty sad" that his trip still had to be a surprise for safety reasons after all that the US had spent in the Middle East. Last week, Trump declared in a tweet that the ISIS had been "defeated" and ordered all American diplomats and soldiers out of the war-torn country.
It was the Obama administration in 2015 that first deployed US troops to Syria as part of a joint effort with Kurdish-led forces against the Islamic State. Nonetheless, US airstrikes had already begun a year before the deployment.
According to the Associated Press, the commander-in-chief told reporters traveling with him that while he wants to get US soldiers back home from Syria, Iraq could still be used as a base to stage attacks on ISIS militants if needed. The president also boasted that the US can attack the Islamic State "so fast and so hard" that they "won't know what the hell happened."
“If we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard they really won’t know what the hell happened,” Trump said, per Bloomberg News. “We’ve knocked them silly.”
"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 added.