President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Wednesday, leaving behind a partially shuttered U.S. government to greet American troops helping hold off extremists in a country where thousands of Americans died during the recent war.
The visit marks Trump’s first visit to a war zone while serving as commander-in-chief, and comes on the heels of major changes in his national security leadership and his policy in the region. The president ordered all 2,000 U.S. forces withdrawn from Syria last week, declaring that the American mission of destroying the ISIS caliphate was accomplished.
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 Wednesday evening. It is his first visit with troops stationed in a troubled region.
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
Approximately 5,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Iraq, where the mission continues to be promoting stability by supporting the Iraqi government in its fight against lingering ISIS forces in the region.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2018
Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington due to the shutdown. It’s 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 U.S.-Mexico border.
There are dire implications in particular for neighboring Iraq. The Iraqi government now has control of all the country’s cities, towns and villages after fighting its last urban battles against IS in December 2017.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi recently said Iraqi troops could deploy into Syria to protect Iraq from threats across its borders. Iraq keeps reinforcements along its frontier to guard against infiltration by IS militants, who hold a pocket of territory along the Euphrates River.
Trump campaigned for office on a platform of ending U.S. involvement in foreign trouble spots, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Syria decision will ultimately affect all of the approximately 2,000 troops deployed in the war-torn country. The Pentagon is also said to be developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops still serving in Afghanistan.
During the presidential campaign, Trump blamed Democrat Hillary Clinton for the rise of IS, due to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 during her tenure as secretary of state.
Source: The Associated Press & Daily Caller