- President Donald Trump made a surprise visit to US troops in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day.
- The White House kept the trip under wraps, and members of the press who accompanied Trump on Air Force One were prohibited from reporting on the trip until after they landed.
- While there, the president served turkey to US servicemembers and met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
- It’s Trump’s second visit to a combat zone since taking office; he previously visited Iraq during Christmas.
- Trump’s trip also comes as he faces snowballing troubles back home, chief among which is a sprawling impeachment inquiry that poses the biggest threat yet to his tumultuous presidency.
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President Donald Trump flew to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day to pay a surprise visit to US troops.
Thursday’s visit is the first time the president went to Afghanistan, which is the site of the US’s longest running war.
According to media reports, Trump left Mar-a-Lago, his resort and golf club in Florida that functions as his retreat from the White House, in secret late Wednesday.
Politico reported that the White House kept Trump’s Twitter active ahead of the trip to keep the event under wraps. The White House also did not announce Trump’s trip ahead of time, and over a dozen members of the press accompanied him on Air Force One on the way over but were prohibited from reporting on the trip for security reasons.
Politico’s report said Air Force One landed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan at 8:33 p.m. local time and that it arrived with the interior lights off and the shades drawn. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greeted Trump at the tarmac after having arrived separately earlier on Wednesday.
While there, Trump reportedly spent about two and a half hours on the ground and served turkey to US troops in a cafeteria. He also posed for photos and spoke briefly.
“It’s truly about Thanksgiving and supporting the troops,” Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, told reporters during the flight to Afghanistan, according to Politico.
Trump met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani while he was in the combat zone.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal, we’ll see if they make a deal,” Trump said while speaking to reporters after his meeting with Ghani. “If they do, they do, and if they don’t, they don’t. That’s fine.”
The president’s comments came weeks after he cancelled a planned visit in September for Afghan and Taliban leaders to come to Camp David to broach possible peace talks. But he called off that visit after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack that killed a US soldier.
Trump’s comments on Thursday also seemed at odds with his campaign promise to end US involvement in the Middle East and pursue an “America First” policy as it relates to military intervention around the globe. Despite his pledge, Trump has actually increased the number of US troops in Afghanistan by a few thousand.
“We’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal, or we have total victory,” Trump said of the US troop presence in Afghanistan. “And they want to make a deal very badly.”
Trump’s trip to Afghanistan is his second visit to a combat zone since taking office. Last year, he travelled to Iraq during Christmas.
The trip also comes as Trump faces snowballing troubles back home.
Chief among them is Congress’ sprawling impeachment inquiry examining whether Trump abused his power by using his public office for private gain. The catalyst for the investigation was a whistleblower complaint that a US intelligence official filed against the president in August.
At the centre of the investigation is Trump’s “shadow policy” toward Ukraine, which involved strongarming Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations that would benefit Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
Specifically, Trump wanted Zelensky to publicly commit to investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for corruption. He also wanted his Ukraininan counterpart to look into a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting it was Russia, not Ukraine, that intervened in the 2016 election.
While Trump and his allies – led by the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani – were carrying out their pressure campaign in Ukraine in what many diplomats and career officials described as an “irregular” policy channel, the president also froze vital military aid to Ukraine and withheld a White House meeting Zelensky desperately wanted.
The House Intelligence Committee, one of the three panels overseeing the impeachment inquiry, concluded public hearings last week after calling a dozen witnesses forward to testify in open-door sessions. Their testimony painted a damning picture of the president leveraging US foreign policy and soliciting foreign interference in a domestic election while holding up hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded security assistance.
Next, the House Judiciary Committee, which is in charge of drafting articles of impeachment, will begin holding public hearings, with the first one scheduled for Wednesday, December 4.
Trump, for his part, maintains that he did nothing wrong but his defence has evolved as new details about his shadow policy continue to spill out.
His Republican congressional allies, meanwhile, have taken up a strategy that involves throwing everything at the wall in the hopes that something sticks. So far, no House Republicans have signalled their support for impeachment. The chances are also slim to none that the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to remove the president from office in the event that he’s impeached.
Still, the idea of being impeached is said to irk Trump.
Axios reported last month that Trump has privately told confidants that impeachment is “a bad thing to have on your resume.” Another source characterised Trump’s comments the same way but said the president instead said “you don’t want [impeachment] on your resume.”
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