Behind Trump’s secret war-zone trip: A Mar-a-Lago escape, a twin Air Force One and a Twitter plan thumbnail

Behind Trump’s secret war-zone trip: A Mar-a-Lago escape, a twin Air Force One and a Twitter plan

For a president who at times seems to be at war with his own military leaders, it was a celebration of America’s troops that a small circle of aides planned carefully for weeks to prevent leaks that could scuttle the trip.
“It’s a long flight,” Trump joked after serving turkey in a cafeteria here on Thanksgiving night. “But we love it.”
Trump’s surprise three-and-a-half-hour stop marked his second visit to a combat zone and his first trip to Afghanistan, dropping into a dangerous region that cultivated the leaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Last year, after facing criticism for being in office nearly two years without visiting troops overseas, Trump had hinted for weeks that he would take a trip soon — “I’m going to a war zone,” he bristled when asked whether he was afraid to visit. No one was particularly surprised when an amateur British aircraft watcher tracked a Boeing VC-25A, one of the modified Boeing 747s that typically serves as Air Force One, flying over Europe.
This year, Trump said nothing publicly before leaving his family, including First Lady Melania Trump, at Mar-a-Lago for his secret visit to Afghanistan.
His staff ensured tweets would be sent from Trump’s Twitter account so Trump-watchers wouldn’t get suspicious that the normally Twitter-obsessed president wasn’t tweeting — like they did last year.
This time, 12 of the 13 journalists who traveled with Trump — representing news wires, print and broadcast outlets — were picked up on the roof of a public parking garage near Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington and not even told where they were traveling until just before they arrived in Afghanistan. Cell phones, hotspots and any other devices emitting a signal were confiscated from everyone traveling on Air Force One — yes, even the president himself.
Trump secretly slipped out of Mar-a-Lago earlier that evening and departed from an undisclosed airport on a flight a little after 7 p.m. Wednesday. The 13th journalist on the Afghanistan trip — a television correspondent — was aboard that flight and described it in a pool report as “bare-bones, except for four blue leather chairs and a moderately fancy port-a-potty that had been brought in for the occasion.”
Trump greeted the crew of that plane and even stayed in the cockpit for takeoff, the pool report said.
The presidential aircraft that Trump had flown to Florida a day earlier remained parked at Palm Beach International Airport, allowing travelers to see the modified blue-and-white 747 aircraft known around the globe as Air Force One.
That was a decoy. Secretly, a twin plane also used as Air Force One was hidden inside a cavernous hangar at Joint Base Andrews — instead of being lit up on the tarmac as usual — allowing the president to clandestinely hop on a flight without the public catching on.
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