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PHOTOS: Trump and First Lady make surprise visit to US troops in Iraq

The President and First Lady visit U.S. troops in Iraq. (White House/Released)
December 26, 2018

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on Tuesday made a surprise visit to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.

This is Trump’s first visit to a conflict zone as President.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Tuesday that, “President Trump and the First Lady traveled to Iraq late on Christmas night to visit with our troops and Senior Military leadership to thank them for their service, their success, and their sacrifice and to wish them a Merry Christmas.”

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Trump’s visit comes on the tail of his announcement that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will leave his post about two months earlier than expected, as well as Trump’s seemingly abrupt announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing all troops from Syria.

Trump on Dec. 19 had tweeted that the U.S. has “defeated ISIS in Syria.”

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he wrote.

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The Pentagon confirmed reports that the U.S. was withdrawing troops but pointed out that the campaign against ISIS is not over.

“The #Coalition has liberated ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against #ISIS is not over,” Pentagon spokesperson Dana White tweeted.

There are approximately 2,000 U.S. service members in Syria who mainly help train local soldiers, including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to fight against ISIS. It has been reported that there are actually more than 4,000 troops in Syria, although military officials have never confirmed the exact number of troops.

U.S. troops have been in Syria fighting ISIS for more than four years.

While Trump has said in the past that he would like to withdraw all troops from Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this fall that troops would remain in Syria to complete their mission of defeating ISIS so the terrorist group cannot mount a comeback.

There are more than 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, which neighbors Syria to the east.

Mattis resigned earlier this month after Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw all troops from Syria.

In his resignation letter, Mattis cited differences of opinion with Trump, saying, “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed […].”

Trump tweeted Sunday that Mattis will leave his post effective Jan. 1, 2019 – two months earlier than expected.

Mattis, 68, is a retired four-star Marine Corps general with a career spanning 44 years. He previously headed the U.S. Central Command overseeing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was the most approved member of the Trump Administration and hailed as one of the greatest military minds of our time.