President Trump and first Lady Melania Trump take pictures with members of the U.S. military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump made an unannounced visit to American troops serving in Iraq late on Christmas night, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday.

Why it matters: This is Trump's first visit to a war zone as president, 23 months after he took office. It comes just one week after Trump announced he would be withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and that the Islamic State's territorial caliphate had been defeated, prompting Defense Secretary James Mattis and anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk to resign in protest.

Details: “I want to come and pay my respects most importantly to the great soldiers, great troopers we have here,” Trump said when asked by pool reporters why he wanted to go to Iraq. Trump met with military leaders and about 100 special operations troops at Al Asad Air Base, per pool reports. A previously scheduled meeting with Iraq's prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was cancelled.

  • On Syria, Trump said that "the generals" repeatedly asked for more time to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, but the last time they requested an extension, the president refused. “The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” he told reporters in Iraq.
  • "I will tell you that I’ve had some very good talks with [Turkish] President Erdogan who wants to knock them out also and he’ll do it. And others will do it to. Because we are in their region. They should be sharing the burden of costs and they’re not," Trump said.

Go deeper: All the times Trump has snubbed the military

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