Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Military

Trump makes surprise Thanksgiving trip to Afghanistan to visit troops

The president was on the ground for more than 2½ hours.
President Donald Trump speaks at a dining facility during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops on Thursday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON  |  AP]
President Donald Trump speaks at a dining facility during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops on Thursday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON | AP]
Published Nov. 28
Updated Nov. 28

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — President Donald Trump paid a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, where he announced the United States and Taliban have been engaged in ongoing peace talks and said he believes the Taliban wants a ceasefire.

In his first trip to the site of America’s longest war, Trump arrived at Bagram Air Field shortly after 8:30 p.m. local time Thursday and spent more than 2½ hours on the ground, serving turkey, thanking the troops and sitting down with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

As per tradition, reporters were under strict instructions to keep the trip a secret to ensure his safety in the country. About 12,000 U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan.

Traveling with a small clutch of aides, including his acting chief of staff, press secretary and national security adviser, but not the first lady, Trump appeared in good spirits as he was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers, as the smell of burning fuel and garbage wafted through the chilly air.

His first stop was a dining hall where he plated turkey and sat down for a meal.

Troops photograph President Donald Trump as he speaks during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops on Thursday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON | AP]

During his visit, Trump said the U.S. and Taliban have been engaged in peace talks and insisted the Taliban want to make a deal after heavy U.S. fire in recent months.

“We’re meeting with them,” he said. “And we’re saying it has to be a ceasefire. And they don’t want to do a ceasefire, but now they do want to do a ceasefire, I believe... and we’ll see what happens.”

The trip comes after Trump abruptly broke off peace talks with the Taliban in September, canceling a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David presidential retreat after a particularly deadly spate of violence, capped by a bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier.

That ended a nearly yearlong effort by the U.S. to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, the group that protected al-Qaida extremists in Afghanistan, prompting U.S. military action after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. U.S. and international forces have been on the ground ever since.

Trump ran his 2016 campaign promising to end the nation’s “endless wars” and has been pushing to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and in the Middle East, despite protests from top U.S. officials, Trump’s Republican allies in Washington and many U.S. allies abroad. For months now, he has described American forces as “policemen” and argued that other countries’ wars should be theirs to wage.

Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 American service members have been killed since the war began 18 years ago.

Just last week, Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to oversee the transfer of remains of two Army officers killed when their helicopter crashed as they provided security for troops on the ground in Logar Province in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban still controls or holds sway over about half of the country, staging near-daily attacks targeting Afghan forces and government officials.

The U.S. and Taliban had been close to an agreement in September that might have enabled a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Trump said he was proceeding with a plan to reduce U.S. troop levels to about 8,600, telling reporters we’re “bringing down the number of troops substantially.”

Still, he said, the U.S. will stay in the country “until we have a deal or we have total victory.”

Trump also met briefly with Ghani, the Afghan president. Ghani thanked the Americans who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” in Afghanistan

"Afghan security forces are taking the lead now," Ghani said.

President Donald Trump accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, right, serves dinner during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops on Thursday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON | AP]

The White House took pains to keep the trip a secret after Trump’s cover was blown last year when Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq by an amateur British flight watcher.

Cell phones and other transmitting devices were confiscated for the duration of the trip from everyone traveling aboard Air Force One. And Thanksgiving-themed tweets were teed up to publish ahead of time from Trump’s account to prevent suspicions arising about the president’s silence.

A small group of reporters was told to meet Wednesday night on the top floor of a parking garage and transported in black vans to Andrews Air Force Base. Meanwhile, the president was secretly flying back from Florida, where reporters had been told he’d be spending Thanksgiving at his Mar-a-Lago club.

The plane he’d flown to Florida — the modified 747 painted in the iconic white and blue of Air Force One — remained parked on the tarmac at West Palm Beach Airport to avoid revealing the president’s movement.

About 9:45 p.m., the president boarded a nearly identical plane concealed in a hangar at Andrews Air Base, taking off and landing under the cover of darkness, with cabin lights dimmed and window shutters drawn.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said plans for the visit had been in the works for weeks.

“It’s a dangerous area and he wants to support the troops,” Grisham told reporters before Trump landed. “He and Mrs. Trump recognize that there’s a lot of people who are away from their families during the holidays and we thought it’d be a nice surprise.”

Shortly after midnight, Trump and his entourage departed.

The president told the troops he was honored to spend part of his holiday with him.

“There is nowhere I’d rather celebrate this Thanksgiving than right here with the toughest, strongest, best and bravest warriors on the face of the earth,” Trump said.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. AP file photo of then Gov. and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
    DeSantis, Rick Scott and other Republicans have taken a strong stance on Saudi Arabia in recent days. President Donald Trump?
  2. Mandi Parsneau, 34, and her daughter Chloe Ann, 9, wait to return to their home at the Naval Air Station, Friday in Pensacola. The naval base is on lockdown after an aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom building at the Naval Air Station. The attack left three dead in addition to the assailant and several injured. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington) [BRENDAN FARRINGTON  |  AP]
    The assault was the second at a U.S. Navy base this week and prompted a massive law enforcement response and a lockdown at the base.
  3. Amie Norquist says her family has suffered health problems from mold in their MacDill base housing. They had to get rid of mold-contaminated furniture, too, in an expensive move to a new home in Riverview. [Times]
    The Tampa case is one of several nationwide that target companies managing the property.
  4. To help manage chronic pain, U.S. Army veteran Kenneth Stewart, 59, of Montgomery, Ala., explores a virtual landscape at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. Stewart, a field artillery chief during Operation Desert Storm, suffers from chronic shoulder pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    Headsets can deliver calming scenarios or return veterans to the place where the stress began.
  5. President Donald Trump speaks at a dining facility during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops on Thursday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ALEX BRANDON  |  AP]
    The president was on the ground for more than 2½ hours.
  6. Army veteran Brenda Jameson, 50, gets her nails painted with Dazzle Dry clear polish at the Trans Fashion & Health Expo, a joint event by Metro Inclusive Health and Tampa Bay Area Department of Veterans Affairs Agencies on Saturday, Nov. 23. [BETHANY BARNES | Tampa Bay Times]
    Saturday’s Trans Fashion & Health Expo in St. Petersburg was a day long event intended to help the transgender community gain access to resources and services.
  7. Maintainers prepare KC-135s refueling planes to be evacuated from MacDill Air Force Base in August. A new study predicts MacDill and other Florida bases will experience a sharp rise in the number of days when the heat index tops 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making it unsafe to be outside for extended periods. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    MacDill Air Force Base is predicted to see big increases in days the heat index tops 100 degrees.
  8. Andrew Morrow, 67, an Army veteran, has a place to live through Operation Reveille and the Tampa-Hillsborough Homeless Coalition. Some days, Morrow said, he would wake up crying after a night on the streets. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
    Through Operation Reveille, advocates spend the year finding housing for Hillsborough’s homeless veterans. Their numbers have fallen since it launched in 2014.
  9. Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza early Tuesday in a resumption of pinpointed targeting that threatens a fierce round of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa) [HATEM MOUSSA  |  AP]
    The Israeli strike killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta and his wife, setting off a furious barrage of Gaza-fired rockets that reached as far as the Tel Aviv
  10. U.S. Army veteran Don Adams, 65, (right) holds his Veterans Treatment Court Certificate of Completion as he hugs Hillsborough Judge Michael Scionti last week. The special court graduated its 700th veteran during a presentation  in honor of the Veteran's Day weekend. "This court saved my life," said Adams, who did not want to participate in the program at first. "This court saved me from me." Pictured left is James. A Jeffries, Chaplain for Hillsborough County veterans. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times]
    The specialized version of drug court puts veterans’ rehabilitation at the forefront. It is becoming a national model.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement