President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania
Trump have made an unannounced Christmas visit at the al-Asad airbase in Iraq.
The first family traveled there “late on Christmas night” to thank
troops for “their service, their success and their sacrifice”, the
White House said.
President Trump said the US had no plans to pull out of Iraq, Reuters
The trip came days after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quit over divisions
about strategy in the region.
The US still has some 5,000 troops in Iraq to support the government in its
fight against what remains of the ISIS.
President Trump, the First Lady and National Security Adviser John Bolton
traveled on Air Force One to al-Asad airbase, west of the capital Baghdad, to
meet military personnel in the base’s restaurant.
The president spent about three hours at the base in what is his first visit
to the region.
During the visit President Trump got a standing ovation from troops as he entered
a dining hall and walked around greeting them, posing for selfies with them and
He tweeted: “.@FLOTUS Melania and I were honored to visit
our incredible troops at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. GOD BLESS THE U.S.A.!”
The president had planned to spend Christmas at his private golf club in
Florida, but stayed behind in Washington because of the current partial
“We’re no longer the suckers,
folks,” he told American servicemen and women at the base.
“We’re respected again as a
President Trump said the US could use Iraq as a forward base if “we
wanted to do something in Syria”, Reuters news agency reports.
He defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria during the visit,
saying: “A lot of people are going
to come around to my way of thinking.
The Pentagon said it would not provide further details of what that next phase is “for force protection and operational security reasons”.
The White House said the US and its allies stood “ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support and any means of infiltrating our borders”.
Israel said it had been told the US had “other ways to have influence in the area” but would “study the timeline [of the withdrawal], how it will be done and of course the implications for us”.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on state-controlled Channel One TV that the US decision could result in “genuine, real prospects for a political settlement” in Syria.
Pulling troops out of Syria had long been promised by President Trump.
The state department abruptly canceled its daily briefing on December 19 after the withdrawal was announced.
One of President Trump’s supporters, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who sits on the armed services committee, called it a “huge Obama-like mistake”.
In a series of tweets, Lindsey Graham said ISIS was “not defeated”, and warned withdrawing US troops puts “our allies, the Kurds, atrisk”.
This week Turkey said it was preparing to launch an operation against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which has been an ally of the US in its fight against ISIS.