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No Phone, No Leak: How Trump Managed to Keep His Afghanistan Trip Secret Revealed

© REUTERS / TOM BRENNERU.S. 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
U.S. 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 - Sputnik International
On 28 November, Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to a US base in Afghanistan to celebrate Thanksgiving with American military personnel. His trip remained a closely guarded secret until the very last minute.

The White House took extra measures to keep Donald Trump’s Thanksgiving trip to a US military base in Afghanistan as discreet as possible – including concealing information from the press, confiscating smart phones from journalists and administration officials once in the air, and even scheduling tweets from the president’s Twitter account to resemble his online activity, Reuters and Fox News have learned.

On 27 November, Donald Trump travelled on Air Force One from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to Afghanistan. Phones and other devices belonging to pool reporters who were waiting for Trump inside the base were confiscated, as they were briefed that the US president would soon travel to an undisclosed location. Journalists who earlier travelled with Trump from Mar-a-Lago in Florida to Maryland were also devoid of phone and internet connection. All smart phones and devices were returned to reporters only a few hours after Trump’s arrival in Afghanistan.

Throughout the 13-hour-flight, Trump was accompanied by his top White House staffers, including White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. Nobody onboard had access to their phones, but once in the air several  scripted tweets were sent out from Donald Trump’s Twitter account congratulating Americans on Thanksgiving and thanking military personnel for their service, ensuring the continuity of the US president’s online activity and removing  any suspicions he could be somewhere else than with his family.

Trump’s Thursday arrival at Bagram, the largest US base in Afghanistan, wasn’t only a surprise for American troops. Even Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whom the US president met following a hearty Thanksgiving dinner, was notified about Trump’s visit only “a few hours” after POTUS arrived at the base, the White House reported.

Trump’s Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said only several officials inside the White House knew about the journey that had been planned weeks in advance in a bid to keep it as secret as possible, knowing Donald Trump’s poor experience with keeping things low profile.

“It’s a dangerous area and he (the president) wants to support the troops”, Grisham said on Wednesday evening. “He and Mrs Trump recognise that there is a lot of people who are away from their families during the holidays and we thought it would be a nice surprise”.

The public was extremely surprised by trip remaining under wraps until the very last minute, with some learning about the US president’s visit only shortly before his actual return home from Afghanistan, noting that the Trump administration can indeed keep a secret when they want to.

President Donald Trump smiles as pastor Paula White prepares to lead the room in prayer, during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House, 27 August 2018, in Washington. - Sputnik International
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Last Christmas, many learned about Donald Trump’s visit to Iraq after his plane was spotted above the UK, with some tweeting the photo of the distinctive aircraft and pointing to the US president’s unusual Twitter silence during the internet blackout in the air.

This time, the White House succeeded in keeping Donald Trump’s second visit to a war zone and first to Afghanistan as quiet as possible. During the visit, the US president addressed American troops and said that Taliban militants were potentially ready to conclude a ceasefire in their war with the local government.

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