In surprise Iraq trip, Trump defends decision to withdraw from Syria

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump has made an unannounced visit to Iraq to visit USA troops stationed there.

They travelled there unannounced "late on Christmas night" to thank troops for "their service, their success and their sacrifice", it said.

The president spoke to about 100 special operations troops who were engaged in combat with the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Trump's order prompted the resignation last week of Defense Secretary James Mattis, who cited his foreign policy differences in a letter to the president.

Trump has drawn criticism from some in the U.S. military for not having visited U.S. troops in conflict zones since taking office in January 2017, particularly after he canceled a trip to a World War One cemetery in France last month due to rain.

Just hours after NBC News claimed that President Donald Trump would not visit US troops during the Christmas season, Air Force One was wheels up on its way to Iraq.

"We're no longer the suckers, folks", Trump told service members at the base, which is situated in western Iraq. Trump was joined by national security adviser John Bolton.

A complete withdrawal of USA troops from Syria would leave a sizeable US military presence in the region, including about 5,200 troops across the border in Iraq.

Presidential trips to boost troop morale have been a longstanding tradition in the years of war following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and Trump has taken considerable criticism for declining to make such a visit until now.

"It's not fair when the burden is all on us", he said.

France's 'yellow vest' protesters block major route to Spain
This was down from a week ago at the same time when there were 33,500 protesters out on the streets, 2,200 of which were in Paris. Around 50 "yellow vests" briefly blocked trucks near the border between France and Spain before gendarmes stepped in.

President Trump with military personnel in a dining hall at air base in Iraq.

Trump's surprise visit to the region came a week after he declared ISIS had been "defeated" in Syria in a tweet and ordered all American diplomats and soldiers out of the country.

There are more than 5,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, 15 years after the 2003 invasion.

The president also visited with military commanders on base.

Trump said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, whom he named on Sunday to replace Mattis in an acting capacity starting on January 1, "could be there for a long time". Pence met with Afghan leaders and visited with USA troops stationed in the country.

Mr Trump has said he would travel to Afghanistan at some point.

He later began to signal that such a troop visit was in the offing. To date, USA forces in Syria have been seen as a stabilizing factor and have somewhat restrained Turkey's actions against Syrian Kurdish forces.

Trump had never traveled to Iraq or Afghanistan but Air Force One was spotted by WikiLeaks flying in the direction earlier in the day.

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