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us troops in syria


President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have made an unannounced Christmas visit at the al-Asad airbase in Iraq.

The first family traveled there “late on Christmas night” to thank troops for “their service, their success and their sacrifice”, the White House said.

President Trump said the US had no plans to pull out of Iraq, Reuters reports.

The trip came days after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quit over divisions about strategy in the region.

The US still has some 5,000 troops in Iraq to support the government in its fight against what remains of the ISIS.

President Trump, the First Lady and National Security Adviser John Bolton traveled on Air Force One to al-Asad airbase, west of the capital Baghdad, to meet military personnel in the base’s restaurant.

The president spent about three hours at the base in what is his first visit to the region.

During the visit President Trump got a standing ovation from troops as he entered a dining hall and walked around greeting them, posing for selfies with them and signing autographs.

He tweeted: “.@FLOTUS Melania and I were honored to visit our incredible troops at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. GOD BLESS THE U.S.A.!”

The president had planned to spend Christmas at his private golf club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington because of the current partial government shutdown.

“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” he told American servicemen and women at the base.

“We’re respected again as a nation.”

President Trump said the US could use Iraq as a forward base if “we wanted to do something in Syria”, Reuters news agency reports.

He defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria during the visit, saying: “A lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking.

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“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip Isis [another name for IS] of its military strongholds.

“Eight years ago, we went there for three months and we never left. Now, we’re doing it right and we’re going to finish it off.”

President Trump said there would be no delays in the withdrawal and added that the US “cannot continue to be the policeman of the world”.

He also said that security considerations had prevented him from visiting US troops in the region several weeks ago.

President Trump announced the decision to pull US troops out of Syria last week.

US troops are being withdrawn from Syria, after President Donald Trump said the ISIS group had been “defeated”, the Trump administration has announced.

However, the Pentagon said it was transitioning to the “next phase of the campaign” but did not give details.

Some 2,000 troops have helped rid much of north-eastern Syria of ISIS, but pockets of fighters remain.

It had been thought defense officials wanted to maintain a US presence to ensure ISIS did not rebuild.

There are also fears a US withdrawal will cede influence in Syria and the wider region to Russia and Iran.

Both the Pentagon and the WhiteHouse statement said the US had started “returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign”.

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The Pentagon said it would not provide further details of what that next phase is “for force protection and operational security reasons”.

The White House said the US and its allies stood “ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support and any means of infiltrating our borders”.

Israel said it had been told the US had “other ways to have influence in the area” but would “study the timeline [of the withdrawal], how it will be done and of course the implications for us”.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on state-controlled Channel One TV that the US decision could result in “genuine, real prospects for a political settlement” in Syria.

Pulling troops out of Syria had long been promised by President Trump.

The state department abruptly canceled its daily briefing on December 19 after the withdrawal was announced.

One of President Trump’s supporters, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who sits on the armed services committee, called it a “huge Obama-like mistake”.

In a series of tweets, Lindsey Graham said ISIS was “not defeated”, and warned withdrawing US troops puts “our allies, the Kurds, atrisk”.

This week Turkey said it was preparing to launch an operation against a Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which has been an ally of the US in its fight against ISIS.

President Barack Obama has sent US troops to Syria to assist anti-government rebels in fighting the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), officials have said.

There will be “fewer than 50” forces deployed in the region to “train, advise and assist” vetted opposition forces, officials added.

This will be the first time US troops are working openly on the ground in Syria.

However, there have been US special forces raids on ISIS militants there.

For more than a year, the US and coalition forces have been carrying out air strikes on ISIS, which controls a large part of northern Syria and parts of neighboring Iraq.US ground troops sent to Syria

The US recently abandoned its Syria rebel training effort, opting to provide equipment and arms directly to rebel leaders instead.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama wanted to provide additional support for Syrian rebel fighters who’ve been having success on the battlefield.

“There are now moderate opposition forces that are 45 miles outside Raqqa,” he said.

“The president is prepared to intensify the elements that have shown promise.”

Josh Earnest said: “This is an intensification of a strategy he discussed a year ago.”

US special operations forces have previously taken part in at least two raids in Syria.

In May, troops killed senior ISIS member Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife in eastern Syria.

Last summer, forces failed in an operation to rescue American hostages including journalist James Foley, who was later beheaded by ISIS fighters.

Last week, American forces assisted Kurdish troops in the rescue of dozens of hostages held by ISIS in Iraq. One American was killed in the raid.