Donald Trump landed in Iraq on Wednesday to pay a surprise holiday visit to American troops—marking the president's first-ever trip to an active combat zone since taking office nearly two years ago.
The Hill reports that Trump and first lady Melania Trump departed to the Al Asad Air Base on Tuesday night.
In the days leading up to the unannounced trip (which is protocol for presidential trips to active combat zones), Trump received widespread backlash for being the first president since 2002 not to visit U.S. troops during Christmastime. On Dec. 21, 2017, POTUS visited wounded soldiers at Maryland's Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Trump's journey to Iraq took place more than a week after he announced he would pull troops out of Syria—a move that reportedly triggered Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis' resignation. The president defended his decision on Syria during the Iraq visit.
"I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds," he told military personnel, as reported by the Associated Press. "Eight years ago, we went there for three months and we never left,” he said. “Now, we’re doing it right and we’re going to finish it off."
Trump reassured troops there would be a "strong, deliberate and orderly withdrawal" from Syria.
Last week, the president announced he was also planning to to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, cutting the number of American troops still serving in Afghanistan from 14,000 to 7,000. Trump said he does not intend to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, adding, "In fact we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria."