From White House Pool:
Washington DC – December 26, 2018 – President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump made a surprise trip to see U.S. combat troops in Iraq on the day after Christmas.
Trump left the White House late on Dec. 25 for an unannounced movement to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Pool was prepositioned on the plane and did not see Trump board. Air Force One was wheels up at 12:06 am ET on Dec. 26. POTUS landed at 11:16 am ET/ 7:16 pm local time at Al Asad Air Base, a joint U.S.-Iraqi military base west of Baghdad.
Asked why he wanted to come to Iraq, Trump told reporters before a meeting with military leaders on base: “It’s a place I have been talking about for many years, many many years,” he said. “I was talking about it as a civilian. ”
Trump: “I want to come and pay my respects most importantly to the great soldiers, great troopers we have here.” While in Iraq, President Trump met with U.S. military leaders and spoke to troops. A scheduled in-person meeting with Iraq’s prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was cancelled.
The details of the trip were embargoed until POTUS had finished giving remarks to a group of about 100 mostly U.S. special operations troops engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Syria.
A few minutes after landing in Iraq, President Trump and the First Lady sat at a large square table inside a tan domed tent with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Douglas Silliman, LTG Paul LaCamera, John Bolton, and other officials for a briefing. After a few remarks, Trump took questions from reporters.
TRUMP ON SYRIA WITHDRAWAL:
Trump described how he gave “the generals” multiple six month “extensions” got get out of Syria. Trump said: “They said again, recently, can we have more time? I said, ‘Nope.’ You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time. We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly. I will tell you that I’ve had some very good talks with President Erdogan who wants to knock them out also and he’ll do it. And others will do it to. Because we are in their region. They should be sharing the burden of costs and they’re not.
“The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world.”
“It’s not fair when the burden is all on us, the United States.”
“We don’t want to be taken advantage of any more by countries that use us and use our incredible military to protect them. They don’t pay for it, and they’re going to have to.”
“In Syria, Erdogan said he wants to knock out ISIS, whatever’s left, the remnants of ISIS. And Saudi Arabia just came out and said they are going to pay for some economic development. Which is great, that means we don’t have to pay.”
“We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.”
Q: WHY COME DURING THE SHUTDOWN?
Trump: “We actually had a couple set up but were canceled for security reasons because people were finding out. Pretty sad when you spend 7 trillion dollars in the Middle East and going in has to be under this massive cover with planes all over and all of the greatest equipment in the world and you do everything to get in safely. Pretty sad when you spend 7 trillion dollars and you have to come in through military escorts and all of the other incredible things that they did.”
Q: HOW LONG DO YOU THINK THE SHUTDOWN WILL LAST?
“Whatever it takes. We need a wall. We need safety for our country. Even from this standpoint. We have terrorists coming in through the southern border.”
Q: Did you have any concerns about coming here today?
“Sure. When I heard what you had to go through?”
Q: What did you have to go through?
“I had concerns about the institution of the presidency. Not for myself personally. I had concerns for the First Lady, I will tell you. But if you would have see what we had to go through in the darkened plane with all window closed with no light anywhere. Pitch black. I’ve been on many airplanes. All types and shapes and sizes.”
“So did I have a concern? Yes I had a concern.”
DINING FACILITY VISIT
POTUS and FLOTUS entered the base dining facility at 12:45 pm ET / 8:45 pm. More than 100 service members in uniform stood and clapped.
Trump and Melania made their way through the crowd for about 15 minutes. Trump stopped to talk and signed several red Make America Great Again hats service members had brought. At one point he signed an embroidered patch that read “TRUMP 2020.”
One man with the name SINGER on his uniform shook Trump’s hand. Trump turned to the reporters: “He came back into the military because of me,” Trump said. Turning to the man, Trump added: “And I am here because of you.”
As he walked by the press pool, Trump told Steve Holland from Reuters that he was pleased about his meeting with military leaders. He said they have a “great plan.” “You’ll see. I wish I could tell you,” Trump said.
At one point, Trump stopped to talk football with a soldier named John Rader with the 201st Regional Support Group based in Atlanta, Georgia. Trump talked for a while about the Falcon’s football losses in recent years.
Trump also paused to take photos and selfies with many service members. At one point Kyu Lee, told Trump he was the chaplain for Seal Team Five. Lee recalled Trump telling him: “Hey, in that case, let’s take a picture.”
The hall was decorated for Christmas with bells, foil balls, twinkling red green and blue colored lights, the tables were covered in red and green table cloths. There were snowmen made of stacked tires painted white and Christmas trees fashioned from cut two by fours.
SPEECH TO TROOPS ON BASE
POTUS and FLOTUS entered a large tan hangar at 1:56 pm ET / 9:56 pm local time. Hundreds of troops in uniform cheered. Melania took to the microphone said gave the troops and their families holiday and new year greetings. “I’m very proud of you,” she said.
Trump greeted the troops, saying he’d had great meetings on base. “We like to win Do we like to win?” Trump said. Troops cheered.
Trump said if there is a terror attack in the U.S. there would be a harsh response from the US: “If anything should happen at all, no body will ever have suffered the consequences they had suffered.”
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