trump iraq christmas
© Reuters / Jonathan Ernst
US President Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.
US President Donald Trump said he's not planning to take American troops out of Iraq as he made his first visit to an active combat zone. His surprise trip also sparked online frenzy after his plane had been noticed over Europe.

Speaking at Al Asad Air Base west of Baghdad, Trump defended his decision to withdraw troops from Syria last week.

"I think a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It's time for us to start using our head," the president said.

"In fact we could use this as the base if we wanted to do something in Syria"

Trump, accompanied by wife Melania, traveled to meet troops deployed in a war zone for the first time since the beginning of his presidency. He had faced criticism before for being the first US president since 2002 not to visit the troops around Christmas.

Last week, Trump announced the total withdrawal of US troops from Syria and a draw-down of half the force currently in Afghanistan, to shouts of protest from both Democrats and Republicans in Washington. The move prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and even calls for a military coup among some of Trump's critics.

Meanwhile, Turkey has been amassing troops on its border with Syria, leading the US foreign service establishment to lament a likely impending assault on Kurds. The Kurdish-led YPG militia have been the mainstay of the US proxy "Syrian Democratic Forces," who liberated much of northeastern Syria from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) but refused to hand it over to the government in Damascus.

Trump's surprise trip to Iraq hasn't gone unnoticed, as reports of an Air Force One plane flying over Europe went viral on social media Wednesday.

Theories of where he might have been going were blooming, fueled by the fact that the US leader was unusually silent on Twitter.