By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — U.S. President Donald Trump has made an unannounced visit to U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq, his first presidential visit to troops in a troubled region.
The White House announced on December 26 that the president had arrived at Al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad after leaving Washington late the previous day.
He was accompanied by first lady Melania Trump. Trump, who has been harshly criticized for not visiting U.S. forces in any combat zone since becoming president in January 2017, immediately defended his decision to withdraw 2,000 forces from neighboring Syria saying that Islamic State (IS) is “very nearly defeated” and any resurgence could be handled by U.S. troops in Iraq.
“We don’t want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them. They don’t pay for it, and they’re going to have to,” Trump said in declaring an end to the United States’ role as a global policeman.
“We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous,” he added.
U.S. troops in Syria have been assisting a Kurdish militia in rooting out the IS terrorist organization.
The Pentagon has also said the United States will withdraw about half of the 14,000 troops participating in the international stabilization mission in Afghanistan.
The United States has over 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the local security forces in their fight against IS. Trump said on December 26 that he has no plans to reduce that number.
Trump was supposed to meet with Iraq’s leadership during the visit, but the meeting was scrapped over disagreements on how it would be conducted.
The U.S. State Department said that a phone conversation would replace the meeting.
The White House said the Trumps will stop at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on their way back to Washington.