AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq – President Donald Trump once said it was not "excessively necessary" to visit troops in danger zones abroad. But with the lights of Air Force One and drawn shutters, the president did just that. He slithered to Iraq at night to greet US service members and show that his normative presidency would at least live up to that tradition.
Addressing troops at an air base in western Iraq defended its decision to take troops from neighboring Syria on Wednesday and told the Islamic State fighters, "We beat them down, we struck them silly."
Contradiction with those of military, aides, and allies who consider IS a diminished but deadly force. His defense minister and envoy of the anti-IS coalition resigned after Trump blinded most of the national security organization with his call.
Trump had been confronted with criticism for not visiting US troops. Annual stamp in office. George W. Bush made four trips to Iraq and two as President to Afghanistan. President Barack Obama made four to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.
Such trips are usually unannounced and extremely safe. Trump was no exception when he flew overnight from Washington, spent more than three hours on the ground, refueling at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, and greeting service personnel in a hangar before he left.
Trump told his audience Iraq said the decision to withdraw some 2,000 troops from Syria testified to its desire to "put America first."
"We are no longer idiots, folks," Trump said at Al-Asad Air Base, about 1
He did not meet with Iraqi officials there, but telephoned the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. The visit seemed to fuel fears over the continued presence of US troops in Iraq as the two major blocs in the Iraqi parliament condemned the trip and compared it to a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The Air Force base where Trump spoke is about 155 miles long (250 km) from Hajin, a Syrian city near the Iraqi border, where Kurdish fighters are still fighting ISIS extremists. Trump has said that IS fighters have been eradicated, but the latest estimate is that IS still holds about 100 square kilometers of territory in this region of Syria, although fighters have also fled the area and are hiding in other pockets of the region
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis should continue to lead the Pentagon until the end of February, but Trump stepped down and announced that Patrick Shanahan, the assistant defense minister, would take the job on January 1. Trump said he was in office "No hurry" to appoint a new chief of defense.
"Everyone and his uncle want that position," Trump told reporters traveling with him. "By the way, everyone and their aunt too, just not to be criticized."
Critics said the US exit from Syria, the latest in Trump's increasingly isolationist foreign policy, would provide an opening. IS needs to reshape itself, give Iran the green light to expand its influence in the region and that of the US assisted Kurdish forces to attack attacks from Turkey.
"I've made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria is to cut ISIS's military strongholds," said Trump, who wore an olive bomber jacket as Chants of "USA! USA!" He greeted him and the speakers roared Lee Greenwood's song "God Bless the USA."
"We will be watching the IS closely," said Trump, who joined First Lady Melania Trump but not a member of his cabinet or legislature. "We will watch her very, very closely, the remnants of ISIS."
Trump also said he has no plans to withdraw the 5,200 US forces in Iraq. That was less than 170,000 in 2007, when US troops climaxed against the denominational violence triggered by the US-led invasion to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein.
Abdul-Mahdi's office said, "Different views on the arrangements" prevents them from meeting, but they discuss security issues and Trump's orders to pull US troops out of Syria by phone. Abdul-Mahdi's office did not say whether he had accepted an invitation to the White House. But Trump spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on the return trip that the Iraqi leader had agreed.
Trump said that after the return of US troops to Syria, Iraq could continue to be used for attacks on IS fighters.
"We can use this as a basis if we want to do something in Syria," he said. "When we see that ISIS is doing something we do not like, we can hit it so fast and hard," that they really do not know what the hell happened.
He promised a "strong, deliberate and orderly withdrawal" of Syrian forces
Trump had told The Associated Press in October that he would visit US troops in troubled areas "someday, but I do not think that this is excessive necessary. "He told reporters that he had planned to travel three or four weeks ago, but the news began to break and forced him to postpone the trip.
The Iraqi leaders declared the fight against the IS ended a year ago, but the country's military and economic situation remains uncertain. Sporadic bombings, kidnappings and killings, which most people attribute to ISIS, continue to be experienced.
On December 15, the US-led coalition launched an airstrike to support Iraqi troops chasing IS fighters westward west of Mosul. The strike destroyed the tunnel entrance and killed four IS fighters, according to the US military in Baghdad. The last American service member to die in Iraq was in August as a result of a helicopter crash in Sinjar.
Trump had planned to spend Christmas in his private club in Florida, but remained behind in Washington on the partial government shutdown
Trump sat down for a position on a platform to end US involvement in foreign trouble spots like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon is also expected to develop plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops still in Afghanistan.
Associated Press authors Deb Riechmann and Lolita C. Baldor of Washington and Philip Issa of Baghdad contributed to this report.
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