President Donald Trump surprised everyone when he made an unannounced trip to Iraq on Tuesday.
He delivered a speech in front of the troops where he defended his decision to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan.
“It’s time for us to start using our head,” Trump told reporters that were traveling with him on Air Force One. “We don’t want to be taken advantage of anymore by countries that use us.”
According to Bloomberg News, Trump stated that the U.S. could use Iraq as a regional launching pad to carry out operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a fight Republicans accused him of undermining by his decision to pull out of Syria.
“If we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard they really won’t know what the hell happened,” Trump said. “We’ve knocked them silly.”
Trump and first lady Melania Trump also used the trip to deliver holiday greetings to service members in Iraq, where the U.S. has kept a sustained military presence since the 2003 invasion launched by former President George W. Bush.
“President Trump and the First Lady traveled to Iraq late 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,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote on Twitter Wednesday.
Trump had come under intense criticism for not visiting U.S. troops fighting overseas, even though he speaks frequently about his support for the military.
Before heading to Florida for Thanksgiving, Trump vowed he would visit troops, but did not specify a date or specific location.
“I’m going to a war zone,” the President told reporters at the time.
Such trips are customary for presidents in the post-9/11 era. Bush and former President Obama both made unannounced visits to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.