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Trump calls on Russia, Pakistan to take more active role in Afghan conflict

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a hangar at Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump urged other countries, specifically Russia, Pakistan, and India, to become more involved in the fighting in Afghanistan as he argued against continued long-term presence of U.S. troops in the war-torn country.

In televised comments to reporters during a cabinet meeting on January 2, Trump also asserted that Moscow’s involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s led to the “bankruptcy” and breakup of the Soviet Union.

Speaking of the fight against Taliban and Islamic State (IS) extremist fighters in Afghanistan, Trump called on other countries that are closer to the region to take up the fight.

“You take a look at other countries…Pakistan is there. They should be fighting,” he said.

“Russia should be fighting,” he said.

“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan [in the 1980s] was because terrorists were going into Russia,” Trump said. “They were right to be there.”

“The problem was it was a tough fight,” he added. “And they literally went bankrupt. They went to being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union.”

“Why isn’t Russia there [now]? Why isn’t India there? Why isn’t Pakistan there?” Trump continued. “Why are we there and we’re 6,000 miles away?”

The Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan from 1979-88 and battled a variety of mujahedin forces battling for control of Kabul in a bloody civil war. Soviet forces withdrew in 1988-89 after years of costly losses, and the U.S.S.R. officially broke up on December 26, 1991.

Trump’s suggestion that the Soviet Union was “right” to invade Afghanistan and his account of the catalyst for that invasion veered from the widely accepted view — that Moscow’s goal was to prop up a communist client government — and drew criticism on social media.

The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on January 3 that Kabul had lodged through official diplomatic channels a request for clarification following Trump’s comments.

The Afghan government understands that “there is a difference between remarks and the official policy of a country,” the statement said.

Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani called the Soviet occupation “a grave violation” of Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

“Any other claim defies historic’l facts,” he tweeted.

Trump did not talk specifically about reports of a possible drawdown in the estimated 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan currently leading a NATO effort to train and advise local troops. Western forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001, when they drove the Taliban from power.

In his comments, Trump also criticized Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the funding of 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.

The U.S. president did not specify the library project to which he was referring.

Afghanistan and India have traditionally had warm relations.

In a speech hosted by Brookings India in 2017, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Shaida Abdali, said India was the largest regional donor to Afghanistan with more than $3 billion in assistance since 2011.

Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have been strained. Kabul and Washington have accused Pakistan of providing a safe haven for insurgents conducting operations in Afghanistan. Islamabad denies the charge.

U.S. officials have also accused Russia of aiding insurgents in Afghanistan. Moscow also denies the charge.