Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Iraq on Saturday to greet U.S. troops ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Pence and second lady Karen Pence flew to Al Asad Air Base in western 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 because of security concerns.
At the base Pence spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi — but by telephone rather than in person.
A senior administration official said the Iraqi leader declined an invitation to meet with Pence at the base and cited security reasons for Pence not going to Baghdad.
Pence did travel to Irbil in northern Iraq and met with Kurdish leader Nechirvan Barzani. Senior administration officials said the meeting was aimed at showing U.S. appreciation for Kurdish allies.
Pence told Barzani he was there to reiterate the “strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people across the region.”
The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism for President Trump’s abrupt announcement last month that he would pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria, opening the door for Turkey to move in and attack Kurdish fighters there, who had been allied with the U.S. against ISIS.
The administration ultimately decided to keep some American service members in Syria to help secure the country’s oil fields. 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.