- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2019

President Trump made a Christmas Eve video call Tuesday to U.S. troops stationed around the world, praising them for being “tremendous warriors” who this year crushed the Islamic State and kept the Taliban in check.

While wishing the service members an “amazing Christmas,” the commander-in-chief expressed the nation’s gratitude for their service.

“Because of your brave and selfless service, Americans can celebrate Christmas in safety and in peace. We all appreciate what you do so much and we thank you very much,” Mr. Trump said.

He made the call from his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the holidays.

On the other end of the video call were service members from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, whose deployments included Afghanistan, Kuwait and aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Forest Sherman in the Gulf of Aden.



“You crushed ISIS from the air, kept the Taliban running scared and conducted countless lethal airstrikes against the enemies of freedom,” Mr. Trump said.

The president listed some of the military’s accomplishments from 2019, including finishing the dismantling of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate in March and killing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an October raid in Syria.

“What happened with ISIS was incredible. As you know, we took over 100% of the caliphate and destroyed them. That doesn’t mean they don’t come back in smaller sections and we handle them as they come back,” the president said, adding that the U.S. military will continue to pick off ISIS leaders as they arise.

“And Al-Baghdadi is dead. The leader of ISIS, the founder of ISIS is dead,” he said. “His replacement is now dead. And we have our sights on the new replacement. I don’t know why anybody would want that job, frankly.”

Mr. Trump has made building up the U.S. military a top priority for his administration, and he boasted to the troops on the call about the progress made, including securing $738 billion in defense spending for 2020.

The defense spending, which was part of a year-end budget deal struck with Congress, included a 3.1% pay raise for the troops.

Mr. Trump mentioned the pay hike.

“You’ve earned it,” he said, adding jokingly that they could return the money to the Treasury if they wanted.

The troops joked with Mr. Trump as well. One service member asked him if “Home Alone 2” was his favorite movie.

Mr. Trump makes a cameo appearance in the 1992 holiday flick.

“Well, I’m in ‘Home Alone 2,’” the president said to laughter on the video call. “A lot of people mention it every year, especially around Christmas. They say — especially young kids — they say, ‘I just saw you on the movie.’ They don’t see me on television as they do in the movie. But it’s been a good movie and I was a little bit younger, to put it mildly. And it was an honor to do it. “

He noted that the film was “a big Christmas hit — one of the biggest.”

The killing of al-Baghdadi was a high point for U.S. national security efforts in 2019, but some thorny military issues remain on Mr. Trump’s to-do list heading into 2020.

He has repeatedly vowed to bring troops home from Afghanistan, but three years into his administration that pledge has not come to fruition.

Roughly 12,000 troops remain, though there have been recent reports the administration plans to announce plans soon to withdraw 4,000, despite little headway on a cease-fire deal with the Taliban.

Mr. Trump cut off the talks earlier this year but told troops during a surprise visit to Afghanistan over Thanksgiving that the Taliban are interested in a cease-fire.

That announcement came just weeks after Mr. Trump abruptly announced a military pullout from northern Syria, angering even his Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

Critics said the withdrawal allowed Turkish troops to commit atrocities against the Kurdish forces that have long been allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS.

But Mr. Trump defended the move as a step in the right direction and part of his promise to bring an end to the nation’s “endless wars.”

At about the same time, Mr. Trump sent fighter jets and 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia after attacks on oil fields that Riyadh blamed on Iran.

Tensions with Iran have continued over its nuclear capabilities and the downing of a surveillance drone, which Mr. Trump also blamed on Iran.

Earlier this year, Mr. Trump became the first president to set foot in North Korea, where he met with leader Kim Jong-un, though the two countries remain at loggerheads over the country’s nuclear arsenal.

After the video call with the troops, a reporter asked the president about North Korea’s threat of a “Christmas surprise” — expected to be another nuclear test or missile launch.

“That’s OK. We’ll find out what the surprise is and we’ll deal with it very successfully,” Mr. Trump said. “Maybe it’s a nice present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test. I may get a nice present from him. You don’t know. You never know.”

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