President Donald Trump arrived in Iraq late on Christmas Day to meet with US troops, the White House revealed Wednesday.
They travelled there unannounced "late on Christmas night" to thank troops for "their service, their success and their sacrifice", it said.
The president told reporters that he wants Iraq to still be used as a base to stage attacks against the Islamic State if needed - and added that the U.S. can attack ISIS "so fast and so hard" that they 'won't know what the hell happened'.
It is the first time Trump has visited troops in a war zone since becoming president.
Mr Trump said the U.S. could use Iraq as a forward base if "we wanted to do something in Syria", Reuters news agency reports.
It comes a week after Mr Trump stunned his national security advisers by announcing he would withdraw USA troops from neighbouring Syria where they have been fighting Islamic State militants.
It came as he faces strong pushback from some allies, including France, and from some of his own Republican party members on his decision to exit Syria and to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan.
One soldier told the president that he went back into the military after he was elected president.
Once on the ground, Trump, wearing a black suit coat and signature red tie, took selfies with troops who surrounded him as he left the plane.
President Barack Obama visited troops on a base in Hawaii every year of his presidency.
"We're, right now, the policemen of the world and we're paying for it", he said on a Christmas call with troops.
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Trump spoke at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq to American servicemen and women wearing fatigues. Although Mattis planned to leave in February, Trump on Sunday dismissed him early, demanding the retired Marine Corps general leave the Pentagon by year end. As of Wednesday afternoon, the headline still reads, "Trump becomes first president since 2002 not to visit troops at Christmastime".
The U.S. first deployed troops to Syria in 2015 during the Obama administration as part of a partnership with Kurdish-led forces against ISIS.
Mieke Eoyang, Vice President of Third Way National Security, made the remarks moments after news broke that the president and first lady made the trip.
The policy changes, defended by Trump as an exit from wars where the United States no longer needs to be expending lives and money, have sparked alarm among U.S. allies and some in the USA security establishment.
"He came back into the military because of me", Trump said to reporters.
Trump has described the United States involvement in Afghanistan as a "complete waste" and vowed to bring home American troops.
"If we see something happening with ISIS that we don't like, we can hit them so fast and so hard they really won't know what the hell happened", Trump added about the militant group that he has said is defeated, as Bloomberg News reported.
Trump's visit comes at a time when his Middle East policy is in flux.
The president on his visit to Iraq, attired for the occasion.
Mr Trump was expected to make two stops on his post-Christmas trip, delivering a holiday message to the more than 5,000 American forces stationed in the country.
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Kalin said there will be no "step back, weakness, halting or a slowing down" of the fight against the Islamic State. "I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds", Mr.
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