President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump on Wednesday made an unannounced visit to Iraq to meet with political and military personnel.
Trump will reportedly also visit U.S. troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on his way back to Washington.
The president’s trip comes on the heels of his sudden decision to withdraw American ground forces from Syria, which prompted Secretary of Defense James Mattis to hand in his resignation on Thursday. Mattis’ departure was mourned by lawmakers of both parties who saw him as a stabilizing figure within the Trump administration.
Two days before he resigned, Mattis thanked U.S. troops at home and abroad for their service.
“This month, many in our military will be serving far from their loved ones. It is difficult work, but this is nothing new: since Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Day in 1776, American troops have missed holidays to defend our citizens’ experiment in democracy,” Mattis wrote in a holiday letter. “Far from home, you have earned the gratitude and respect of your fellow citizens and it remains my great privilege to serve alongside you. Merry Christmas and may God hold you safe.”
Speaking to reporters in Iraq, Trump defended the decision to withdraw the nearly 2,000 troops, saying, “A lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking.”
In a tweet last week, Trump claimed that Islamic militant group ISIS had been “defeated” in the country.
But Trump said Wednesday that he has “no plans at all” to remove the more 5,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq.