NATIONWIDE — President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump boarded a plane late on Christmas night and flew to Iraq to visit U.S. troops, according to the White House.

  • President Donald Trump, first lady make surprise visit to Iraq troops
  • It's the president's 1st trip to visit troops deployed to a war zone
  • Move comes amid federal shutdown, resignation of defense secretary

The unannounced trip is the president's first visit to troops in a war zone.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders shared on Twitter photos of the visit, during which Trump and the first lady wished the troops well and thanked them for their service.

Trump landed at an air base west of Baghdad late Wednesday, had faced criticism for not visiting troops deployed to war zones. After canceling a visit to a U.S. military cemetery in France in November, Trump said he would soon travel to a war zone.

The trip comes less than a week after Defense Secretary James Mattis submitted a resignation letter saying the president needed someone more "aligned" with his decision to pull the 2,000 U.S. troops out of neighboring Syria. Amid a budget impasse over funding for a border wall with Mexico, the federal government shut down a day later.

Trump said he has "no plans at all" to pull the 5,000 troops from Iraq, the Associated Press reported, though he recently ordered a drawdown of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

George W. Bush made four trips to Iraq during his presidency, and Barack Obama went there once.

Information from CNN and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.