On Thanksgiving eve, President Donald Trump slipped unnoticed out of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on his way to a bare-bones military plane with just a handful of top aides.
His departure was concealed even from White House staff and military personnel who were at Mar-a-Lago to set up a video conference call with troops for Thursday afternoon — and who were allowed to proceed to avoid raising any suspicion that Trump was anywhere but at the resort, according to a person familiar with the plans.
Sixteen hours later, he touched down for the first time in Afghanistan, on just his second visit to a war zone as President after a similar Christmas Eve trip last year to Iraq.
The 16-hour trip — plus the three more Trump spent on the ground at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul — were shrouded in secrecy under the protocol that a war zone visit by the US commander in chief demands. At 2 p.m. on Thursday, reporters traveling with the President were authorized to report on his visit, minutes before Air Force One took off to return Trump to Florida.
Trump golfed as usual on Wednesday, then was whisked away from Mar-a-Lago just after dark in a vehicle specially brought down from Washington earlier in the day, according to two people familiar with the plans. Even some Secret Service agents working at Mar-a-Lago were unaware that Trump had left the compound, according to a law enforcement source.
The President boarded a military plane at an undisclosed airport and took off at 7:20 p.m. en route to Joint Base Andrews, the military base just outside of Washington, with the special car aboard, according to the two people familiar with the plans. The 747 Trump used to travel to Florida earlier in the week remained guarded on the tarmac of Palm Beach International airport throughout the overseas outing.