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How plane spotter outed Trump's 'secret' troops visit

Washington Post,
Publish Date
Sunday, 30 December 2018, 1:43PM
Donald Trump's trip was supposed to be secret. (Photo / AP)
Donald Trump's trip was supposed to be secret. (Photo / AP)

US president Donald Trump's secret trip to visit troops in Iraq wasn't quite as discreet as it should have been - with people in Germany and the UK spotting his plane before he even landed in the conflict zone.

Social media users gave the US president's game away, with a Twitter user in Germany posting he had tracked an aircraft that could be Air Force One.

Later a Britain-based Flickr user posted a photo of a plane bearing the same blue-and-white colour scheme as the presidential aircraft flying over Yorkshire.

The messages prompted others to track the flight's call sign and suggest Trump could be travelling to the Middle East in Air Force One.

The Boxing Day trip, outed on social media, was Trump's first trip to a combat zone.

Trump told reporters shortly after landing in Iraq he had flown in a "darkened plane with all windows closed, with no light anywhere; pitch black" to avoid it being tracked.

He also appeared to suggest that previous efforts to arrange a visit to a combat zone had been scrapped because of security concerns.

"We actually had a couple set up but were cancelled for security reasons because people were finding out," Trump said.

"Pretty sad when you spend $7 trillion in the Middle East and going in has to be under this massive cover with planes all over and all of the greatest equipment in the world and you do everything to get in safely."

Some have criticised the White House's security measures, suggesting they may need to use a more conspicuous aircraft in the future.

"Sources telling me Trump's on his way to visit troops - possibly in Iraq," Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted.

"Better late than never. But also a bit troubling that so many folks seem to already know about this if it hasn't happened already. #OpSec anyone?"

There were also other signs that Trump had left Washington.

The White House press office was unstaffed and did not issue any daily guidance for the president's schedule. The Marine who usually stands guard outside the West Wing when the president is in the White House also was nowhere to be seen.

Trump was also uncharacteristically absent from social media for 20 hours.

Trump eventually broke the silence after two posts on Christmas Day late Wednesday afternoon, with a tweet in which he shared a video of himself and first lady Melania Trump meeting troops in Iraq.

ON AIR: Andrew Dickens Afternoons

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