Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 July 2019

Trump on Afghanistan: the Soviets were right to invade

US president delves into Soviet-Afghan history in first Cabinet meeting of the year

In a rambling history lesson on Wednesday President Donald Trump applauded the Soviet Union’s ten-year invasion of Afghanistan.

“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there,” Mr Trump said in his first Cabinet meeting of the year — seemingly unaware the US was the main international backer of the other side of the conflict to Moscow.

The US and its allies funded and armed the Afghanistan's mujahideen, a grouping of local anti-communist militias and foreign fighters.

Experts have since noted that contrary Mr Trump’s claim, there were never any reports of terrorist attacks on Russia during the 1980s. Not even the “most shameless Soviet propagandist” claimed that Afghan terrorists were attacking Russia, New York University Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin told The Washington Post.

During his bizarre speech, Mr Trump also connected the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to Moscow’s role in Afghanistan. Russia, he said, used to be the Soviet Union, “Afghanistan made it Russia. Because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan.”

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He may have been confusing the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which led to the deaths of between 500,000 and 2 million civilians, with the second Chechen War in 1999 which was preceded by what Moscow called terrorist and criminal activity by Chechen separatists in Russia.

Senior aides and Cabinet members were back at work on Wednesday despite the ongoing government shutdown, quietly listening as the US president delved into the causes of one of the world’s bloodiest and longest conflicts.

He also took a shot at his former defence secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned last month, saying he wasn't happy with the former military head's work in Afghanistan.

"I mean, I wish him well," said Mr Trump, "But, as you know, President Obama fired him and, essentially, so did I. I want results."

It was Mr Trump’s first public appearance in nearly a week, after being holed up in the White House for Christmas and New Year’s, while his family celebrated in his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

"You know, I was in the White House all by myself for six, seven days. It was very lonely,” Mr Trump recalled. He described channel-flipping and watching a different network — PBS — to fill the time.

"I felt I should be here just in case people wanted to come and negotiate the border security," Mr Trump explained. "I was all by myself in the White House — it's a big, big house — except for all the guys out on the lawn with machine guns," Mr Trump said, referencing the Secret Service and military personnel who guard the White House year-round.

"I was waving to them...These are great people. And they don't play games. They don't, like, wave. They don't even smile," he said. "I was hoping that maybe somebody would come back and negotiate. But they didn't do that."

But now that the long, lonely holiday stretch is over, Mr Trump is back at work. And while some members of his administration were there, others were prevented from reporting to work because of the partial government shutdown that is now affecting hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

The shutdown, he said, would last "as long as it takes."

And as for his favourite rapper, Mr Trump enthused: "Even Kanye West came out today and said great things about Trump.

"It's going to be a very exciting year. I think it's going to be a very good year. Some people think it'll be controversial and tough and it probably will, but we're going to get it done," he said.

Updated: January 3, 2019 03:42 PM

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