WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has begun discussing his first trip to an overseas combat zone, according to a report in the Washington Post this week.
Trump’s lack of time with troops downrange has become another lingering controversy for the White House, which over the last two years has cast itself as a friend and fierce defender of the military.
But critics have pointed out that almost two years into his tenure as commander in chief, Trump has yet to make a visit to Afghanistan, Iraq or any other combat zone, breaking with tradition set by his predecessors.
According to the Associated Press, Trump told reporters Tuesday he was “going to a war zone” when he responded to a question about his support for the troops. He did not say when he would be making the trip or to which conflict area he would be going. An official said a White House team recently returned from beginning to plan for a visit, the AP reported.
Former President Barack Obama traveled to Iraq in April 2009, just a few months after taking office, as part of an extended overseas tour. His first trip to Afghanistan didn’t come until his second year in office.
Former President George W. Bush visited Iraq in November 2003 — about eight months after the start of that conflict — but did not travel to Afghanistan for the first time until 2006 because of security concerns surrounding a potential presidential visit.
In an interview with The Associated Press in October, Trump said that a visit with service members downrange will happen “at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary.”
“I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here … I’m doing a lot of things. But it’s something I’d do. And do gladly," Trump told the AP.
But earlier this week, in a Fox News interview, Trump said that a trip at some point in the future will happen.
“There are things that are being planned,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about it because of security reasons and everything else.”
The Washington Post report said the trip likely will not happen over the Thanksgiving break, but could come in the near future.
Last month, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the president should make the visit downrange to show respect for the sacrifices made by troops.
“It’s not just to get an idea what is going on, but to personally thank the men and women of the United States who are exposing themselves to great dangers for the country,” he told reporters.
Trump has made multiple trips in the past year to stateside military bases.
He has also courted several military and veterans controversies in recent days. Over Veterans Day weekend, he was criticized for skipping one memorial event in France honoring American troops who fought in World War One, then for not making an effort to visit Arlington National Cemetery on his return home.
In the Fox News interview, he attacked retired Adm. William McRaven, the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, for criticizing his comments on the media and seemed to blame McRaven for taking too long to launch a mission to capture Osama Bin Laden.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.