U.S. President Donald Trump's claim that the Soviet Union was in the "right" when it occupied Afghanistan for nearly a decade did not go down well with many Afghans, and his take on Moscow's justification for invading the country was also questioned.
Trump made the controversial comments during a January 2 cabinet meeting in which he argued against the long-term presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He said Moscow's involvement in the nine-year Soviet-Afghan war led to the bankruptcy and dissolution of the Soviet Union and called on other countries in the region to join the fight against extremists in Afghanistan.
"Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan," Trump said. "The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there."
The widely accepted version of events is that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 to prop up the fledgling communist government, and argued that its intervention was in compliance with international law and Soviet-Afghan friendship treaties that pledged, among other things, mutual military aid.
The Soviet Union also presented itself as the true defenders of Muslim Afghans, who were under attack by "imperialism," and suggested that the United States was planning to use Afghanistan as a way to subvert the U.S.S.R.
By the time Soviet forces pulled out in 1989, some 1 million Afghan civilians were dead and millions of others had been displaced. An estimated 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed during the protracted and costly conflict, in which the United States backed rebel forces.
On January 3, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani clapped back at Trump's interpretation of history.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry on January 3 said in a statement that it had asked Washington for clarification through diplomatic channels regarding “recent comments."
“Following the former Soviet Union invasion, not only all U.S. Presidents condemned it, but they also remained supporters of the Afghans' holy Jihad,” the statement read.
Omar Samad, a former Afghan diplomat who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, suggested on Twitter that the U.S. president needed to brush up on his Soviet-Afghan history.
Former Afghan intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil responded with a string of tweets that addressed the impact the Soviet loss in Afghanistan had on the outcome of the Cold War and lamenting recent reports that the United States was planning a drawdown of its troops in Afghanistan.
In his comments, Trump also called on Russia, Pakistan, and India to get involved in the fighting against the Taliban and Islamic State forces in Afghanistan.
Trump also chided Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his talk of funding an unidentified library in Afghanistan.
Modi has been "constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan," Trump said. "You know what that is? That's like five hours of what we spend," he said. "And we're supposed to say, 'Oh, thank you for the library.'
"I don't know who's using it in Afghanistan," Trump added.
Afghan journalist Parviz Kawa later suggested that Trump may have confused a "library" with the Afghan parliament, which was constructed by India and inaugurated by Modi in 2015.
India has said it has provided $3 billion in development assistance to Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, while government sources in New Delhi were quoted by AFP as saying in a statement that "India plays a significant role as a development partner" in Afghanistan, with projects aimed at achieving "a tangible improvement in the lives of its people.”
As of July, the United States had reported more than 2,300 military deaths since entering Afghanistan in 2001. More than 30,000 civilians deaths have been documented.