President Donald Trump made a surprise Christmas visit to US troops in Iraq Wednesday.
Air Force One touched down at the Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad after an overnight flight from Washington with First Lady Melania Trump, a small group of aides and Secret Service agents, plus a pool of reporters.
While there has been no full-scale violence in Iraq since Islamic State suffered a series of defeats last year, US troops train and advise Iraqi forces still waging a campaign against the militant group.
On his way home from Iraq, he stopped to visit troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
On his stop in Iraq, he defended his decision to pull out the 2,000 troops from Syria, which he has said was made possible by the defeat of Islamic State militants.
“We want peace and the best way to have peace is through strength,” Trump told troops wearing camouflage fatigues in a hangar as he concluded his visit. He said some troops “can now return home to their families.”
““Our presence in Syria was not open ended and it was never intended to be permanent,” he added.
The US military says it has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, focused on training and advising Iraqi troops to ensure that Islamic State does not re-emerge.
NATO defense ministers agreed in February to a bigger “train-and-advise” mission in Iraq after a US call for the alliance to help stabilize the country after three years of war against Islamic State.
President Trump has also wants to end protracted US involvement in overseas conflicts, and to force allies to pay more for the costs that he says fall disproportionately on American taxpayers.
In Iraq, he said countries in the region will have to pick up the burden but he has no plans for a withdrawal from that country.
“These people are going to have to start doing a lot of their own work and they’re going to have to start paying for it because the United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” President Trump told reporters.
“It’s time to get our young people out,” President Trump said. “And I’ve been signing plenty of letters and I don’t like sending those letters home to parents saying that your young man or your young woman has been killed.”
“I don’t like doing it. We’ve been doing it long enough.”
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