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The Latest: Trump Visits US Troops in Iraq without Mattis

The Latest: Trump Visits US Troops in Iraq without Mattis

Wednesday, 26 December 2018 03:38 PM

AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump's trip to Iraq (all times local):

11:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump spent around three and a half hours on the ground in Iraq on his first visit to a troubled region.

In a speech to troops at a base in western Iraq, Trump defended his decision to withdraw forces from neighboring Syria. That decision prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who did not travel with Trump and was working in his Pentagon office on Wednesday.

First lady Melania Trump was on the trip. So was his national security adviser, John Bolton. No other top officials or members of Congress were along.

Trump met with U.S. diplomats and senior military leaders and wished troops a happy holiday.

In his speech, he said the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria could return home because of military gains against the Islamic State group.

The U.S. still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the government as it continues the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by IS militants. IS has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.

11 p.m.

President Donald Trump says security concerns forced him to scrap an earlier trip to visit U.S troops in the Middle East.

Trump was speaking Wednesday to reporters who traveled with him to Iraq, his first trip to visit troops stationed in a troubled region.

Trump told reporters he had planned to make the trip three or four weeks ago, but word of the trip started getting out and forced him to postpone it.

The president called it "pretty sad" that after all the U.S. has spent in the Middle East, his trip still had to be a surprise for safety's sake.

10:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump is defending his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria where they have been helping battle militants from the Islamic State group.

While visiting troops in western Iraq on Wednesday, Trump said that because of the military's gains against the militant group, U.S. forces can return home to their families.

Trump spoke at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq to American servicemen and women wearing fatigues. It was a little chilly and several wore knit hats.

Trump said the U.S. mission in Syria was to strip IS of its military strongholds — not to be a nation-builder. He says that's a job that should be shouldered by other rich nations.

The president said the U.S. presence in Syria was never to be "open-ended," and that Turkey has agreed to eliminate remnants of IS still remaining in the country.

10:30 p.m.

Making his first visit to a troubled region, President Donald Trump says he was more concerned for the people accompanying him to Iraq than he was for himself.

Trump says he was concerned about the institution of the presidency and first lady Melania Trump, who flew with him to an airbase just west of Baghdad.

Trump made the 11-hour flight on a darkened Air Force One with lights off and window shades drawn plus military jet escorts.

He says he's never seen anything like it.

10:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump, who is visiting Iraq, says he has "no plans at all" to remove U.S. troops from the country.

Trump is making his first presidential trip to a troubled region in the wake of his recent decision to pull U.S. forces from neighboring Syria.

He says he wants to get U.S. soldiers home from Syria and that Iraq can still be used as a base to stage attacks on Islamic State militants if needed.

Trump told reporters traveling with him that if needed, the U.S. can attack IS "so fast and so hard" that they "won't know what the hell happened."

The president's decision to exit Syria stunned national security advisers and allies, including Iraq, and prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

10:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump is making an unannounced visit to Iraq — his first visit with U.S. troops in a troubled region.

Trump landed at an airbase west of Baghdad after dark Wednesday, leaving behind a government shutdown and other upheaval at home. The trip also comes after Trump announced that he was pulling U.S. forces out of neighboring Syria.

Trump, who begins his third year in office next month, had faced criticism for not visiting U.S. troops stationed in harm's way. He told The Associated Press in October that he didn't think such a visit was "overly necessary."

He left Washington amid immense turmoil in the U.S.

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

   
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The Latest on President Donald Trump's trip to Iraq (all times local):11:15 p.m.President Donald Trump spent around three and a half hours on the ground in Iraq on his first visit to a troubled region.In a speech to troops at a base in western Iraq, Trump defended his...
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Wednesday, 26 December 2018 03:38 PM
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