Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday made a surprise trip to Iraq, greeting U.S. troops stationed there and meeting with Iraqi Kurdistan President Nechirvan Barzani.
Pence was there to reassure Iraqi Kurds that the U.S. continues to support them after President Donald Trump withdrew troops from northern Syria two months ago. It was the vice president’s second trip to the region in less than five weeks: Trump sent him to Ankara, Turkey, last month to help negotiate a ceasefire after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent troops to hit Kurdish fighters in northern Syria when the U.S. withdrew.
The vice president flew in a C-17 military cargo jet in order to keep the high-level trip secret. He landed in Erbil, where he met with Barzani. Pence also received a classified briefing at Iraq’s Al-Asad Air Base, the base that was the main headquarters for the operation in Syria last month that led to the death of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Pence also spoke by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Reuters reported.
Pence said he welcomes “the opportunity on behalf of President Donald Trump to reiterate the strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people across this region,” Reuters said.
The vice president’s trip “also served to bolster U.S. troops ahead of next Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. The vice president and his wife, Karen, served a traditional meal to U.S. military personnel during the visit.”
“‘While you come from the rest of us, you’re the best of us,’ Pence told service members in a dusty hangar at Al-Asad,” the Associated Press reported. “He said the Trump administration is working to secure another pay increase for the armed services and suggested the ongoing impeachment inquiry in Washington was slowing the way.”
“Partisan politics and endless investigations have slowed things down in D.C.,” Pence said.
On his trip, Pence “hailed the cease-fire as the way to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey’s invasion, though he remained silent on whether it amounted to a second abandonment of America’s former Kurdish allies, many of whom are branded as terrorists by Ankara,” the AP reported.
On Nov. 13, Trump feted Erdogan with a White House visit over the objection of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who argued Erdogan should be denied the honor of a West Wing visit in the aftermath of the invasion and because of his decision to purchase Russian-made surface-to-air missiles over the objection of NATO allies.
Barzani thanked Pence for the U.S. military support in the fight against ISIS, adding that his “visit at this particular time is an important indication of your continued support to Kurdistan and Iraq.”
Weeks after declaring the near-complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, Trump decided that roughly 800 would stay to keep eastern Syria’s oil fields from falling back into the hands of the Islamic State.
Barzani thanked Pence for the U.S. military support in the fight against the Islamic State group, adding that his “visit at this particular time is an important indication of your continued support to Kurdistan and Iraq.”