President Donald Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day, marking his first visit to the battlefields where the nation’s longest war is still being fought.
Trump arrived at Bagram Air Force Base under a veil of secrecy just in time to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the troops. Later, he said he was restarting peace talks with the Taliban.
“We’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal, or we have total victory, and they want to make to make a deal very badly,” Trump said. “The Taliban wants to make a deal — we’ll see if they make a deal. If they do, they do, and if they don’t they don’t. That’s fine.”
The president also reaffirmed his commitment to bring the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan down to about 8,600 – from about 12,000 to 13,000.
“We’re bringing down the number of troops substantially,” he said.
But the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Mark Milley, said that no final decision had been reached on troop levels in the near future.
“There’s nowhere I’d rather spend Thanksgiving than with the toughest, fiercest warriors,” Trump said. “I’m here to say Happy Thanksgiving and thank you very much. As president of the United States, I have no higher honor than serving as commander-in-chief.”
He added: “We will continue to work tirelessly for the day when all of you can go home to your families, and that day is coming very soon.”
There was some intrigue surrounding the trip. The president was scheduled to spend the holidays at Mar-a-Largo in Florida. But sometime on Wednesday night, he left the resort for an undisclosed airport and took off for Andrews air force base in Maryland where he boarded Air Force One for the 13-hour trip to Bagram.
The president also held a short meeting with Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani.
Following the meeting, Ghani tweeted that “both sides underscored that if the Taliban are sincere in their commitment to reaching a peace deal, they must accept a ceasefire. We also emphasized that for any peace to last, terrorist safe havens outside Afghanistan must be dismantled.”
Previously, Trump visited troops in the Iraq war zone last year.
Security precautions were extreme. All cell phones — including those of senior White House staff — were confiscated before boarding the flight. The trip had been in the works for weeks, which is amazing considering the number of people who would have known of it.