President Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to members of the armed forces in Iraq on Wednesday, where he announced that there are “no plans at all” to withdraw from the country.
Accompanied by his wife Melania, Trump visited the troops deployed in a war zone for the first time since the beginning of his presidency.
Speaking to military personnel at the Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad, Trump defended his decision to withdraw troops from Syria last week.
There are still around 5,000 US troops in Iraq to support the government in its fight against what remains of ISIS. Trump said the US could use Iraq as a forward base if the US decided to do something in Syria.
“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 said. “In fact we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria”.
The Guardian reports: Trump’s trip was shrouded in secrecy. Air Force One flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad under the cover of darkness on Wednesday evening. It is his first visit with troops stationed in a troubled region.
Fifteen years after the 2003 invasion, the US still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the government as it continues the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by Isis. Isis has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.
Trump, who speaks often about his support for the US military, had faced criticism for not yet visiting US troops stationed in harm’s way as he approaches his two-year mark in office. He told The Associated Press in an interview in October that he “will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary”. He later began to signal that such a troop visit was in the offing.Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington due to the shutdown. It is unclear whether his trip to Iraq was added after it became apparent that the government would be shut down indefinitely due to a stalemate between Trump and congressional Democrats over the president’s demand for a wall along the US-Mexico border.