Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit to Iraq Saturday to greet U.S. troops ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Montana Rebublic Radio reports.
Pence and second lady Karen Pence flew to Al Asad air base in Iraq, aboard a C-17 military plane, along with the vice president’s chief of staff Marc Short, his national security adviser Keith Kellogg and a small group of reporters.
The visit was kept secret due to security concerns.
At the base Pence spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi — but by telephone rather than in person — thanking him for allowing the trip.
He and Mrs. Pence then entered a dining hall decorated for Thanksgiving where about 150 U.S. service members had gathered; the vice president was carrying a turkey on a platter, and the couple was greeted by applause.
They served the troops food and thanked them for their service.
“The armed forces of the United States are the greatest force for good that the world has ever known, and you are that force,” the vice president said.
In his remarks he also chastised Congress for failing to properly fund the Defense Department, saying that “partisan politics and endless investigations have slowed things down a bit in Washington, D.C.”
“I will make you a promise: this president, our administration will never stop fighting until we get you our troops the resources it needs to accomplish your mission and defend this nation,” Pence said.
The trip comes as the potential for the impeachment of President Trump hangs over the administration. At the same time, questions remain about the direction of the president’s policies in the Middle East.
Trump came into office promising to stop “endless wars” and bring U.S. troops home, but those efforts have been stymied by circumstances on the ground and opposition from his own party.
Last month, Trump abruptly announced he would be pulling U.S. forces out of northern Syria, opening the door for Turkey to move in and attack Kurdish fighters, who had been allied with the U.S. against ISIS.
Facing widespread criticism from U.S. allies and bipartisan pushback from Congress over the decision, Trump sent Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey to negotiate a temporary ceasefire between Turkey and Kurdish forces.
The administration ultimately decided to keep some American service members in Syria to help secure the country’s oil fields. Trump claims the U.S. is keeping the oil, but the administration has offered no details on how that would actually happen.
The U.S. also relocated some U.S. troops from Syria to Iraq. Iraq’s military warned, however, that the additional forces would not be allowed to stay in Iraq indefinitely.
In the tumult that followed the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria, some captured ISIS fighters were able to escape, raising security concerns.
The absence of the U.S. has also allowed Russia to further its influence in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for joint patrols in the area that was occupied by the Kurdish military in Syria – patrols that were once carried out by American troops.
President Trump has defended his decision, arguing that the U.S. is not obligated to defend Kurdish forces forever and that the ceasefire negotiated with Turkey would ultimately save lives.
Back in Washington, the House has just wrapped up a series of public hearings in the impeachment probe examining Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine and whether he abused his power to target political rivals.
Current and former government officials have testified that they believed President Trump was withholding military aid for Ukraine in order to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Burisma, a natural gas company with ties to former vice president Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, made waves on Wednesday when he told lawmakers that Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were aware that aid was potentially being tied to these investigations.
Sondland said that he mentioned to Pence that he was worried the aid was being held up in pursuit of these probes.
Pence’s office almost immediately disputed these allegations, saying that the vice president never had a conversation about “investigating the Bidens, Burisma, or the conditional release of financial aid.”
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