In an unannounced trip to Iraq on Wednesday, President Donald Trump staunchly defended his decision to withdraw USA forces from neighboring Syria despite a drumbeat of criticism from military officials and allies who don't think the job fighting Islamic State militants there is over.
What is Trump's strategy for the region and what message is he trying to send? "The real names, faces, and identities, of personnel involved in special operations or activities, are usually a closely held secret in a combat zone", Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy intelligence specialist, told the news outlet.
The political upside is, the optics are good for the president and for the first lady. But while addressing troops, Trump shared some inaccurate details about the raises they have been offered under his administration.
"We've knocked them out", he said.
Trump's visit comes amid a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, as Washington seeks to counter Iran's sway in the Middle East. "First time in 10 years", he said.
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Reuters reported last week that the Pentagon was considering using special operations teams to target Islamic State militants in Syria, based out of Iraq. President Barack Obama visited troops in Hawaii every year for eight years as part of his vacation, according to NBC.
"I think it's kind of a misplaced opportunity; the President really just needs to kind of marinate in the moment of being with these incredible soldiers who are protecting our freedoms, and that's what it's really all about", he added.
There is no faction within the U.S. ruling establishment opposed to war, and Trump's decision on ending the USA deployment of troops in Syria signals no end to the drive to assert United States hegemony over the Middle East's oil reserves, no matter what the cost in civilian lives. He said Ain al-Asad could be used for US air strikes inside Syria. But U.S./Iraq relations deteriorated considerably after that. The last USA service member to die in Iraq was in August, as the result of a helicopter crash in Sinjar.
The Iraqi prime minister recently said Iraqi troops could deploy into Syria to protect Iraq from threats across its borders.
This is a president that's dealing with an ongoing government shutdown.
Over the weekend, Defense Secretary James Mattis signed an order that tasked U.S. Central Command with developing a withdrawal plan, but there was no timetable associated with the order.