WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is back in Washington Thursday morning after a surprise holiday visit to members of America's armed services in Iraq.
The commander in chief made the trip Christmas night. The 11th-hour flight was shrouded in secrecy as he touched down for the first time in an active combat zone.
The president thanked the troops for their efforts in the fight against ISIS.
"We came to al Asad to share our eternal gratitude for everything," he said. "Two years ago, when I became president they were a very dominant group, they were very dominant. Today they are not dominant anymore."
Trump revealed he wants us troops to remain in Iraq despite his decision last week to withdraw all 2,000 soldiers in neighboring Syria – a move that led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.
"Our presence in Syria was not open-ended and was never intended to be permanent," Trump explained, adding that the US should no longer share the burdens of global defense alone.
"It's not fair when the burden is all on us," he said. "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."
"We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven't even heard about. Frankly, it's ridiculous," he noted.
"We're not the suckers of the world. We're no longer the suckers, folks," he told the troops. "We're respected again as a nation."
Meanwhile, there are reports the president is also considering pulling 7,000 troops out of Afghanistan – about half the American presence there.
Trump also met with the US ambassador to Iraq and with US troops in Germany on his way home. Iraq's prime minister also accepted an invitation to visit the White House.