Trump makes first visit to United States troops in harm’s way

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose with troops stationed in Iraq on Christmas

"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", Sanders tweeted.

The visit to the Al-Asad Airbase west of the capital, Baghdad, comes just a week after Trump unsettled his military advisers and worldwide allies, including in Iraq, by announcing that he would withdraw USA troops from neighboring Syria, where they have also been helping in the fight against extremist militants.

Just hours after they published, President Trump and the first lady were on their way to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq for an unannounced visit.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned following the announcement.

But before Wednesday's trip to Iraq, Trump had taken some heat from critics for being the first president since 2002 not to make a Christmastime visit to troops in 2018.

"We want peace and the best way to have peace is through strength", Trump told troops wearing camouflage fatigues in a hangar as he concluded his visit.

But Trump has directed the Defence Department to withdraw almost half of the more than 14,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan, U.S. officials said last week, despite warnings from numerous president's senior advisers and military officials that the move would invite chaos and terrorism.

At the military base, Trump sought to defend his "America first" policy of pulling back from multinational alliances, including what to many Americans seem like the endless wars of the Middle East.

There are more than 5,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, 15 years after the 2003 invasion. Since U.S. forces returned to Iraq in 2014, the base has played an important role in the fight against Islamic State because of its location.

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The trip may also help answer critics who point out that, despite his fondness for discussing his support for the United States military, he had not visited U.S. troops stationed in combat zones nearly two years into his time in the White House.

"It's not fair when the burden is all on us", he said. The Kurdish-led YPG militia have been the mainstay of the U.S. proxy "Syrian Democratic Forces", who liberated much of northeastern Syria from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) but refused to hand it over to the government in Damascus.

Mr Trump has said Deputy Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who he named as General Mattis's replacement, "could be there for a long time".

"If we see something happening with ISIS that we don't like, we can hit them so fast and so hard they really won't know what the hell happened".

I'm sure we'll be hearing about it if he said anything to question the existence of Santa Claus during his visit. It continues to experience sporadic bombings, kidnappings and assassinations, which most people attribute to IS.

Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington due to the partial government shutdown. He said some troops "can now return home to their families".

A decade-and-a-half later, the US-led war on the false pretext of finding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and some 5,000 American troops without yielding any meaningful results. 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 USA involvement in foreign trouble spots, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

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