WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump made his first trip to Afghanistan when he made a surprise visit to an air base near Kabul to thank American troops serving in the war zone and joined 500 of them in having turkey on the occasion of Thanksgiving.
After having dinner with his troops during the unannounced visit on Thursday, Trump had a hastily-arranged bilateral meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Kept a highly-guarded secret till the time he left Afghanistan, Trump touched down at the Bagram Air Field outside Kabul on a pitch-dark tarmac after a 13-hour flight abroad Air Force One. The President reached just in time to serve troops Thanksgiving dinner at the air field’s dining facility. He was greeted at the airfield by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.
A small pool of reporters travelling with him were only allowed to shoot Trump’s arrival from inside a van. Wearing a navy blue suit and a striped red tie, the President dished out turkey to roughly two dozen troops at a dining facility decorated with red, orange, and yellow Thanksgiving banners and tablecloths. Trump wished them a Happy Thanksgiving. He then walked into a dining hall full of about 500 troops.
“I’ll be talking to you later, but right now I want to have some turkey.” he said. “I’m going to join you for a little lunch. We’re also going to shake hands with some of the folks.” This was Trump’s second visit to a conflict zone. Last year, he travelled to Iraq to visit US troops on the day after Christmas.
Travelling with President were his spokesperson Stephanie Grisham, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Senator John Barrasso. Trump sat down for Thanksgiving dinner in between Barrasso and the area support group commander. After dinner, POTUS took as many pictures with troops as time allowed.
Trump moved through the sprawling base in a motorcade with 15 vehicles. He was followed into each location by teams of heavily-armed combat troops in fatigues, helmets and night vision goggles. Due to security concerns, the White House notified Ghani about this trip shortly before landing in Afghanistan. According to White House Deputy White House Press Secretary Judd Deere, an invitation was extended “a few hours ago” and Ghani accepted.
After his bilateral with Ghani, Trump addressed a few hundred cheering troops from inside a massive hanger on the air field. Standing in front of a huge American flag and flanked by two tanks, the commander in chief almost immediately brought Afghanistan on stage.
Ghani also thanked the troops for “your support and the bravery of Afghan soldiers, we’ve inflicted an incredible defeat of ISIS”. Trump stayed on the ground for about two-and-a-half hours.
Earlier on their way to Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told a small pool of reporters: “He and Mrs Trump recognise that there’s a lot of people far away from their families during the holidays and we thought it would be a nice surprise.”
“It’s truly about Thanksgiving and supporting the troops,” Grisham responded when asked about the political message of the trip. The press secretary told reporters that the trip had been planned for weeks.
As part of its effort to ensure news of the trip did not leak before the embargo unlike his Christmas trip to Iraq in 2018, the cell phones, hotspots and other devices emitting a signal were confiscated from everyone travelling on Air Force One before reporters boarded it. In fact, the White House arranged in advance for Trump’s Twitter account to remain active during his travel.
Reporters travelling with him Trump were informed about the destination just two hours before their arrival at the Bagram Air Filed. PTI