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

James Pasley
President Donald Trump speaks to the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit at Bagram Air Field, on November 28, 2019 in Afghanistan.

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.

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.

Alex Brandon / AP

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Sources: The New York Times, Politico



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

Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Source: Politico



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

Tom Brenner / Reuters

And selfies with him.

Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

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

Alex Brandon / AP

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.

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.

Alex Brandon / AP

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.

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.

Alex Brandon / AP

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.

Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Source: The New York Times



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

Tom Brenner / Reuters

Source: The New York Times



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

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.

Alex Brandon / AP

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."

Alex Brandon / AP

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.

Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty

Sources: Business Insider, Politico