Vice-President Pence makes unannounced visit to troops

CNN- Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced trip to Iraq to visit US troops ahead of Thanksgiving, landing in the country Saturday amid violent anti-government protests. Pence visited the Al Asad Air Force Base in western Iraq, where he was greeted by the US Ambassador to Iraq and several military officers. He received a classified briefing from the commanding officer on the base and spoke by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi.

On the call, Pence told Mahdi that he traveled to Iraq in part to “extend gratitude to the men and women (of the US military) serving in your country,” according to the TV travel pool with the vice president. Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence later served the troops a Thanksgiving lunch, with the Vice President serving turkey and Mrs. Pence handing out yams. As service members came up to them, the Pences asked each where they were from and thanked them for their service.

Vice President Pence then delivered remarks to about 150 service members in a hanger. “The President and your Vice President and the American people are behind you 100%,” Pence said, according to the TV travel pool.

Pence told the service members that the Trump administration was “fighting to secure another pay raise for the men and women in the military,” but added “we need Congress to do their jobs,” the TV travel pool reported.

“Congress should have finished their work months ago but you know that partisan politics and endless investigations have slowed things down,” Pence said, according to the pool, referring to the House impeachment proceedings into President Donald Trump and Ukraine.

Pence also mentioned the US military raid  that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Vice President recounted how he was in the White House Situation Room with Trump when they received word that Al Baghdadi was killed.

Pence also made a stop in the Iraqi city of Erbil where some US special operations forces have routinely been based. There, he met with the President of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, as he sought to reassure the Kurdish leader of US support. “On behalf of President Trump, I also welcome the opportunity to reiterate the strong bonds forged in the fires of war between people of the United States and Kurdish people across this region,” Pence said during his meeting with Barzani, according to the pool report.

Pence’s visit comes over a month after the US announced a withdrawal of US forces out of northern Syria — where America was fighting alongside Kurds in the region. The decision allowed Turkey to launch a long-threatened offensive across the border into Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria. After backlash — including from Republican lawmakers and accusations the US was abandoning an ally — the US announced that some US troops would remain in Syria to safeguard the oil fields from ISIS.

Pence, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had traveled to Turkey last month to broker a ceasefire, but Syrian Kurds and US officials say that Turkish-backed groups continue to conduct attacks. Pence had traveled to Afghanistan in 2017, paying a visit to US troops for his first trip to the country as vice president. Plans for foreign trips to war zones are typically kept secret for security reasons.

Trump had visited US troops in Iraq at the same US Air Force base last year around Christmas — the first trip he made to a war zone as President. On Friday, ahead of Pence’s arrival, Iraqi security forces dispersed protesters on a bridge in central Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 26 others, security forces and activists said.

More than 300 people have been killed and 15,000 injured in Iraq since the start of anti-government protests in October, according to the Iraqi Parliamentary Human Rights Committee. Protests have erupted in Baghdad and in several Shiite provinces in the south over unemployment, government corruption and the lack of basic services — such as electricity and clean water.</p><p><em>This story has been updated with additional developments.

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