US President Donald Trump’s comments on Wednesday applauding the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan did not sit well with many Afghans, who said his remarks revealed a poor understanding of the war.
“President Trump fails to recognise basic historical facts on the 1979 illegal invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union,” Javid Faisal, former government official and a candidate for the Afghan parliament, told The National.
“The sovereignty of Afghanistan was attacked and with the direct help of the US government ... the Soviets were defeated,” he said, adding that thousands of Afghan lives were lost in the process.
In a news conference in Washington on Wednesday, Mr Trump justified the Soviet invasion by saying that “the reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”
“It was a tough fight. And literally, they [Russia] went bankrupt. They went back to being called Russia again as opposed to being the Soviet Union,” he added, defending reduced US involvement in the decades-long war.
Many Afghans were quick to point out that Mr Trump seemed unaware the US was the main international backer of the Afghan fighters who battled Soviet forces.
Mr Faisal recalled a quote from former US leader Ronald Reagan, who was in office during increased American support for the mujahideen.
“President Reagan said at that time: ‘As long as the Soviet Union occupies Afghanistan in defiance of the international community, the heroic Afghan resistance will continue and the United States will support the cause of a free Afghanistan’,” Mr Faisal said.
At the height of the Cold War, the US government under Reagan placed support for the mujahideen fighters at the centre of US foreign policy. The so-called Reagan Doctrine, which backed anti-communist movements in Afghanistan, Angola and Nicaragua, boosted economic and military support to guerrilla groups in Afghanistan fighting the Red Army.
Afghanistan’s foreign minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, also took to Twitter to condemn Mr Trump’s comments.
“Soviet occupation was a grave violation of Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Any other claim defies historical facts,” he said.
In another post, Wazhma Frogh, a prominent Afghan women’s rights activist, reminded Mr Trump of US support and funding for the mujahideen during the war.
“Wow! I needed this history lesson to laugh my heart out! So no one told Donald Trump that Afghans toppled the Soviet Union with American Stingers and Israeli weapons,” she said on Twitter.
Former Afghan spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil suggested that Mr Trump’s comments overlooked the role Afghanistan played in helping the US outlast the Soviet Union.
“The US won the Cold War because of the many sacrifices that Afghans made. The US reaped tremendous economic benefits from winning the Cold War yet [they] abandoned Afghanistan,” he said.
Many Afghans were also offended by Mr Trump’s reference to the Soviet Union’s war against terrorists in Afghanistan, considering his comments an insult to the memory of mujahideen, many of whom are honoured as freedom fighters and martyrs in Afghanistan.
“Even Russia no longer says that [they are terrorists] or tries to justify it,” Mr Nabil said.
Analysts observing the Afghan conflict reason that Mr Trump’s statements stem from a lack of understanding of regional dynamics in general, and a lack of understanding of Afghan history.
“Trump believes that other countries are exploiting the US,” said Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan and South Asia politics.
“In the case of Afghanistan, he heard that Russia and Pakistan are interested [in intervening and resolving the conflict], so [he reasons] let them take care of it. He has no ideas about Afghanistan itself and is not interested in it,” he said.