President Donald Trump greeted U.S. troops at an armed forces base in Germany after making an unannounced visit to U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq, his first presidential visit to service members in a troubled region.
Trump posed for selfies and shook hands with dozens of soldiers at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on December 27 as his plane refueled on the return flight from Iraq.
The previous day, the president paid a surprise visit to the Al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad along with the first lady, Melania Trump.
Trump, who has been harshly criticized for not visiting U.S. forces in any combat zone since becoming president in January 2017, used the Iraq visit to defend his decision to withdraw 2,000 forces from neighboring Syria, saying that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group is "very nearly defeated" and any resurgence could be handled by U.S. troops in Iraq.
“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," Trump said in declaring an end to what he called the United States’ role as a global policeman.
"We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven't even heard about. Frankly, it's ridiculous," he added.
U.S. troops in Syria have been assisting a Kurdish militia in rooting out IS.
The Pentagon has also said the United States will withdraw about half of the 14,000 troops participating in the international stabilization mission in Afghanistan.
The United States has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the local security forces in their fight against IS. Trump said on December 26 that he has no plans to reduce that number.
Trump was supposed to meet with Iraq’s leadership during the visit, but the meeting was scrapped over disagreements over how it would be conducted.
The U.S. State Department said that a phone conversation would replace the meeting.