Donald Trump makes his first visit to US troops in Iraq amid planned withdrawal in Syria
US President Donald Trump greets soldiers at a dining hall at Al Asad Air Base, in Iraq. (AP: Andrew Harnik)
US President Donald Trump has made his first visit to soldiers stationed in a troubled region, flying in to Iraq on Boxing Day in an unannounced trip.
- Mr Trump had been criticised for not yet visiting overseas troops
- He had said he did not see such a trip as “overly necessary”
- The US Government remains partially shut down amid a funding stalemate over a border wall
It comes a week after Mr Trump stunned his national security advisers by announcing he would withdraw US troops from neighbouring Syria where they have been fighting Islamic State militants.
Defence Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned following the announcement, and Mr Trump’s decision rattled allies around the world, including in Iraq.
The president travelled with first lady Melania Trump and their 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 (local time).
Donald and Melania Trump meet with government and military advisers at Al Asad Air Base. (AP: Andrew Harnik)
Fifteen years after the 2003 invasion, the US still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq as the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by the Islamic State group continues.
IS has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.
Mr Trump, who speaks often about his support for the US military, had faced criticism for not yet visiting troops as he comes up on his two-year mark in office.
In an interview in October he said he “will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary”.
He later began to signal that such a visit was in the offing.
Mr Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private club in Florida, but stayed 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 over the President’s demand for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
More to come.