President Trump made an unannounced trip Wednesday to Iraq, his first visit to troops in a combat zone as president.
“So Melania and I are thrilled to be here with the extraordinary men and women of the American Armed Forces — the greatest military and especially as we get all of these billions and billions of dollars of new equipment that I approved over the last two years,” Trump said in remarks to the troops at Al Asad Air Base. “We came to Al Asad to share our eternal gratitude for everything you do to keep America safe, strong, and free. Though you are thousands of miles away from your home and your loved ones, I hope you all had a merry Christmas. I also know that, speaking for your families, they are missing you and they love you. And you know they’re every bit a part of your success; they make it possible. So they’re very special to us, all of the families.”
Trump, alongside First Lady Melania Trump addressed U.S. soldiers and posed for selfies for nearly 3 hours at Al Asad Air Base near Baghdad.
“The other reason I’m here today is to personally thank you and every service member throughout this region for the near elimination of the ISIS territorial caliphate in Iraq and in Syria,” Trump said. “Two years ago, when I became President, they were a very dominant group. They were very dominant. Today, they’re not so dominant anymore. Great job. I looked at a map, and two years ago it was a lot of red all over that map. But now you have a couple little spots. And that’s happening very quickly.”
Trump added, “No enemy on Earth can match the awesome strength of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Nobody is even close. But you strike fear into the hearts of our enemies and bring comfort to all of our allies and those who cherish peace. And we want peace. And the best way to have peace is strength. When we’re strong, we’re going to have peace. If we’re not strong, you know what happens. So we’re stronger than ever. And very soon, when it all comes in, when that equipment keeps flowing — it’s being made, much of it now — there will be nobody ever in history that’s even close.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed the trip on Twitter.
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
The trip, which the White House kept secret until after the president met with troops, comes days after Trump ordered a full withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria and pushed for halving the 14,000-strong U.S. military contingent in Afghanistan.
The president’s trip to the Middle East comes after Trump had received criticism for being the first president since 2002 not to visit service members during the holiday season. Trump visited wounded U.S. troops last Christmas season, on Dec. 21, 2017, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. He also that month invited Coast Guard members to play golf at his course in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump hinted in recent weeks that a trip to visit U.S. troops in a combat zone would be in his future. In an interview with Fox News last month, President Trump said a visit to troops deployed overseas was in the works.
“I think you will see that happen,” Trump said to Chris Wallace in a Fox News interview. “There are things that are being planned. We don’t want to talk about it because of security reasons and everything else.”
On Christmas, the president made calls to U.S. service members stationed in Guam, Bahrain, Qatar and Alaska, but he did not speak with troops stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria