Trumps visit to US troops in Iraq

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018Image copyright

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Mr Trump and his wife met military personnel at the al-Asad airbase, west of Baghdad

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have made an unannounced Christmas visit to US troops in Iraq.

They travelled there “late on Christmas night” to thank troops for “their service, their success and their sacrifice”, the White House said.

Mr Trump said the US had no plans to pull out of Iraq, Reuters reports.

The trip came days after Defence Secretary Jim Mattis quit over divisions about strategy in the region.

The US still has some 5,000 troops in Iraq to support the government in its fight against what remains of the Islamic State (IS) group.

What happened during Trump’s visit?

Mr Trump, his wife and National Security Adviser John Bolton travelled on Air Force One to al-Asad airbase, west of the capital Baghdad, to meet military personnel in the base’s restaurant.

He spent about three hours at the base in what is his first visit to the region.

During the visit he got a standing ovation from troops as he entered a dining hall and walked around greeting them, posing for selfies with them and signing autographs.

Mr Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private golf club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington because of the current partial government shutdown.

What did Trump say?

“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” he told American servicemen and women at the base. “We’re respected again as a nation.”

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Media captionWas Trump right to say IS is beaten?

Mr Trump said the US could use Iraq as a forward base if “we wanted to do something in Syria”, Reuters news agency reports.

He defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria during the visit, saying: “A lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking.

“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip Isis [another name for IS] of its military strongholds.

“Eight years ago, we went there for three months and we never left. Now, we’re doing it right and we’re going to finish it off.”

He said there would be no delays in the withdrawal and added that the US “cannot continue to be the policeman of the world”.

The president also said that security considerations had prevented him from visiting US troops in the region several weeks ago.

Why is withdrawing from Syria controversial?

Mr Trump announced the decision to pull US troops out of Syria last week.

However, important allies including senior Republicans and foreign powers have disputed the claim that IS is defeated in Syria and say the US withdrawal could lead to a resurgence.

In his resignation letter, General Mattis said he did not share Mr Trump’s views.

One of the top US diplomats in the fight against IS, Brett McGurk, also resigned early. He reportedly described Mr Trump’s decision as a “reversal of policy” that “left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered”.

A Kurdish-led alliance, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), has also warned that IS could recover.

US troops have helped rid much of Syria’s north-east of the jihadist group, but pockets of fighters remain.

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