Inside Trump’s 3.5-hour top-secret Thanksgiving trip to visit US troops in Afghanistan

Trump spoke with US troops during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit at Bagram Air Field, on November 28, 2019, in Afghanistan.

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Trump spoke with US troops during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit at Bagram Air Field, on November 28, 2019, in Afghanistan.
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Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

President Donald Trump ate turkey with US troops in Afghanistan for Thanksgiving.

Trump visited Afghanistan on Thursday for the first time. For security purposes, it was a top-secret trip that involved decoy planes, a false announcement from the White House about his whereabouts, and someone continuing to tweet from his personal Twitter account while he was en route to avoid raising suspicions.

He was in Afghanistan for three and a half hours. He made a speech to 1,500 US troops, served and ate turkey with soldiers, posed for photos, and met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Here’s what the clandestine trip was like.


On Wednesday morning, November 27, President Donald Trump played a round of golf at Mar-a-Lago, the private resort he owns in Florida. The White House announced he would be spending the night in Florida, too, but at 7 p.m., he secretly boarded Air Force One.

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Mar-a-Lago.
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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


More than 12 journalists joined Trump for his trip, picked up from the roof of a public parking garage. They weren’t told where they were going until just before they landed. It was completely under wraps for security purposes.

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider, Politico


White House staff even continued to send tweets from Trump’s personal Twitter account, because people had become suspicious last year when it was inactive during his visit US troops in Iraq the day after Christmas.

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U.S. President Trump, traveling with the first lady, meets political and military leaders and makes a policy speech to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.
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Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider, Politico


The president’s blue-and-white 747 was left outside at Palm Beach International Airport, to act as a decoy. According to Politico, only a small circle of aides planned the trip had been for weeks to ensure no one knew about it.

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1000 Words/Shutterstock

Source: Politico


Trump took the backup 747 for the 13-hour flight. Technically, any plane the president is on is known as Air Force One.

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US President Donald Trump boards a different Air Force One after changing plane at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, while returning from a surprise Thanksgiving visit to the troops in Afghanistan on November 28, 2019.
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OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Source: White House


White House press secretary Stephanie Graham said the trip was “truly about thanksgiving and supporting the troops,” and not about securing peace with the Taliban. But according to The New York Times, the trip was political. Trump was looking for a foreign policy win, after he called off talks with the Taliban in September.

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Armed U.S. troops travel inside the presidential motorcade ahead of Air Force One, at the tarmac at Bagram Air Field during a surprise visit by U.S. President Donald Trump at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on November 28, 2019.
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REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Source: The New York Times


The plane landed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan at 8.33 p.m., according to Politico. The shades were drawn and the lights were off. US troops have been stationed in Afghanistan since 2001, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, but this was Trump’s first visit to the country. He was met by US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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President Donald Trump arrives to meet the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit at Bagram Air Field, on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan.
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Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Source: Politico, Reuters


Security was high at the main base for US troops north of Kabul. Trump was transported by a 15-vehicle motorcade. Soldiers stood on the back of vehicles armed with automatic weapons.

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US Soldiers stand guard as US President Donald Trump makes a surprise Thanksgiving day visit to the US troops at Bagram Air Field, on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan.
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Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Sources: The New York Times, Politico


Once he was inside the airbase, Trump was greeted by chants of “USA! USA!”

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US President Donald Trump speaks to the troops before a Thanksgiving dinner at Bagram Air Field during a surprise visit on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan.
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Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Source: Politico


Troops took the chance to get photos of the commander in chief.

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US troops look on as U.S. President Donald Trump eats during a surprise visit at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, November 28, 2019.
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Tom Brenner / Reuters

And selfies with him.

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President Donald Trump poses for pictures with soldiers during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit with US troops stationed at Bagram Air Field, on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan.
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Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

They lined up their patches and coins for Trump to inspect.


Trump took to the stage to speak to troops about US victories over Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The New York Times said the visit allowed Trump to stand in front of a supportive military backdrop. It was a helpful image, after he recently intervened in several war crimes cases, which haven’t gone down smoothly in the Pentagon.

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President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, November 28, 2019.
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Tom Brenner / Reuters

Source: The New York Times


About 1,500 troops watched him speak. He told them he wanted to reduce troops in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600. He also said the Afghanistan war would not be decided on the battlefield but by people from Afghanistan and with a political solution.

Sources: Business Insider, The New York Times, Reuters, Politico


But he said US troops would stay on if necessary. “We’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal or we have total victory. And they want to make a deal very badly.” During his remarks, he did not mention any of his domestic issues, including the impeachment hearing.

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President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, November 28, 2019.
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Tom Brenner / Reuters

Sources: Reuters, Politico


He also sat down for a discussion with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. During their conversation, he said that he had reopened peace talks with the Taliban. “The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we’re meeting with them,” Trump said.

Source: The New York Times


On Twitter afterwards, Ghani said, “Both sides underscored that if the Taliban are sincere in their commitment to reaching a peace deal, they must accept a ceasefire.” The ceasefire has been a demand from the Afghan government for a long time, but there’s no evidence that the Taliban has agreed to one.

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Afghan’s President Ashraf Ghani looks on during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump at Bagram Air Field during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit, on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan. (
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Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Source: The New York Times


Trump had time to serve turkey and mashed potatoes to the troops.

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President Donald Trump serves U.S. troops food at a Thanksgiving dinner event during a surprise visit at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, November 28, 2019.
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Tom Brenner / Reuters

Source: The New York Times


And he sat down to eat the meal with them, too.

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President Donald Trump eats dinner with U.S. troops at a Thanksgiving dinner event during a surprise visit at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, November 28, 2019.
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Tom Brenner / Reuters

But he didn’t get to enjoy all of it. He was all set to go with a “gorgeous plate of turkey,” but General Mark Milley came over and said they should get some photos. “I never got to my turkey. It’s the first time at Thanksgiving that I’ve never had anything called turkey,” Trump said.

Source: Politico


There was a little time to chat. He told soldiers, “What a great job you do. It’s an honor to be here.”

Source: Reuters


All in all, Trump was in Afghanistan for about 3.5 hours. He returned to Mar-a-Lago on Friday around 7:30 a.m.

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US President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One upon arrival at Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, Florida on November 29, 2019.
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Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Sources: Business Insider, Politico