Donald and Melania Trump make surprise visit to United States troops in Iraq

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose with troops stationed in Iraq on Christmas

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pose with troops stationed in Iraq on Christmas

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have made a Christmas visit to US troops in Iraq, the White House has confirmed.

On Sunday, Trump said in a tweet that he had spoken with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan about a "slow and highly coordinated" withdrawal of the USA troops, suggesting that he might slow down the process after the barrage of criticism.

The first indications that he was not at the White House included his lack of Twitter postings through Wednesday morning and discussions among airplane spotters of a Boeing VC-25A in European airspace.

As with prior presidential trips to war zones, Trump's Iraq visit was conducted with some secrecy to help ensure his safety.

Once on the ground, Trump, wearing a black suit coat and signature red tie, took selfies with troops who surrounded him as he left the plane.

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

The president told reporters traveling with him that he wants to get USA soldiers home from Syria and that Iraq can still be used as a base to stage attacks on Islamic State militants if needed, according to the Associated Press. Mattis had planned to leave at the end of February but Trump forced him to go on January 1 after his resignation letter.

Trump signed autographs and posed in selfies with the troops.

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Trump's unannounced visit on the day after Christmas continues a holiday tradition followed by previous presidents.

Trump's trip to Iraq came at a turbulent time for his administration, particularly around military policy.

Trump has described the USA involvement in Afghanistan as a "complete waste" and vowed to bring home American troops.

"Well, I think you will see that happen", the president said after Wallace noted that Obama and former President George W. Bush had each visited soldiers in war zones.

There are more than 5,000 United States troops still in Iraq, 15 years after the 2003 invasion. US forces reentered Iraq in 2014 after the Islamic State established a self-declared caliphate in Syria and swept through Iraq, reaching the outskirts of the capital, Baghdad.

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

One of those critics was Mattis, who said in a candid resignation letter last week that his views did not align with the president's, particularly in regard to the treatment of US allies.

"It's time to get our young people out", Trump said.

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