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President Trump and first lady Melania Trump greeted members of the USA military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Wednesday.

According to a tweet from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, President Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived in Iraq 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".

Ankara is threatening a new offensive in Syria.

Quotable quote (Trump via the linked Politico article): "We're no longer the suckers, folks". "We're respected again as a nation".

Trump made the decision on Syria abruptly last week, against the advice of top aides and commanders, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned the next day. The militant group, also known as ISIS, has lost almost all its territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.

Like presidents before him, Trump's visit was shrouded in secrecy.

In November 2003, President George W. Bush became the first USA president to visit Iraq.

Barack Obama visited Afghanistan four times as president, most recently in 2014, and also made a trip to Iraq shortly after his 2009 inauguration. The Iraqi government now has control of all the country's cities, towns and villages after fighting its last urban battles against IS in December 2017.

"Whatever it takes", Trump said, via the pool report. Although Mattis planned to leave in February, Trump on Sunday dismissed him early, demanding the retired Marine Corps general leave the Pentagon by year end.

"I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds", Trump told troops clad in fatigues at al-Asad Airbase west of Baghdad. "And also, by the way, everybody and her aunt, just so I won't be criticized".

"You can't have any more time. Which is great, that means we don't have to pay", he said.

Trump said the United States would remain in Iraq, adding, "In fact, we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria". That's down from about 170,000 in 2007 at the height of the surge of USA forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the US -led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Iraq trip will also go some way to ending criticism over Trump's failure to meet soldiers on the ground, even as he repeatedly touts his support for the military in campaign rallies.

Mr Trump said the U.S. could use Iraq as a forward base if "we wanted to do something in Syria", Reuters news agency reports.

Trump said the US mission in Syria was to strip the Islamic State (ISIS) of its military strongholds - not to be a nation builder.

"In Syria, Erdogan said he wants to knock out ISIS, whatever's left, the remnants of ISIS".

During his first visit to a troubled region, Trump also said he has no plans to withdraw USA forces from Iraq.

"I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking".

Visiting troops overseas is a cherished tradition for presidents.

With most of its regular hosts off for the holidays, The Five's guest hosts were more critical of the president than the usual lineup. The US president stayed at the air base west of Baghdad for more than three hours.

A decade-and-a-half later, the US-led war on the false pretext of finding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and some 5,000 American troops without yielding any meaningful results. The strike destroyed the tunnel entrance and killed four IS fighters, according to the USA military in Baghdad.

During his remarks, the Commander-in-Chief encouraged USA service members to keep up the fight and vowed to continue the fight against ISIS from Iraq.