KABUL — Afghan officials on Thursday denounced President Trump’s praise of the 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of their country, which he described this week as a fight against terrorism, breaking with decades of Republican anti-communist dogma.
According to the revisionist historical account Trump delivered during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, “the reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia.” He added: “They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight.”
The comments marked a surprising split with U.S. conservatives dating back to President Ronald Reagan, who saw the invasion as an attempt to spread communism and aided insurgent forces fighting Soviet troops.
The remarks also raised eyebrows among officials in Afghanistan at a time when Kabul has voiced frustration with Trump’s sudden announcement of a plan to withdraw up to half of U.S. troops as peace talks with Taliban insurgents continue without Afghan government involvement.
A statement from President Ashraf Ghani’s office described the battle against the Soviets as a “national uprising for gaining freedom” and noted that the Soviet invasion was condemned by the United Nations and United States at the time.
“All presidents of America not only denounced this invasion but remained supporters of this holy jihad of the Afghans,” read the statement, which added that the government would be seeking clarity from the United States.
Foreign Affairs Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said the Soviet occupation violated Afghan sovereignty. “Any other claim defies historic’l facts,” he said on Twitter.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Saleh Mohammad Saleh, a lawmaker representing Konar province, also noted that the United States funded the rebels fighting the Soviets. To now hear Trump justifying the invasion was “really strange,” he said.
“Our war against the Soviets was righteous. The international community stood by us. We gave more than enough sacrifices,” Saleh told The Washington Post. “This man proves to be more mad than people think.”
He also criticized the plan to pull out at least half the 14,000 U.S. troops in the country as bad for Afghanistan’s stability, especially in the midst of peace negotiations.
Sayed Ikramuddin Masoomi, a lawmaker representing Takhar province who also fought the Soviets, said their occupation “was crystal clear and was specifically for supporting [Moscow’s] puppet communists in Afghanistan.”
Trump’s invitation for Russia and India to join the fight against the Taliban — along with Pakistan, where the militants have enjoyed safe haven — further complicated matters, Masoomi told The Post.
Rahmatullah Nabil, a former head of the Afghan intelligence agency, blasted Trump in a string of tweets.
“Even Russia no longer says that or tries to justify it,” he said about the invasion and occupation. “Those that fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it; hopefully you are smart enough not to make the same mistake when it comes to abandoning [Afghanistan].”
Trump also puzzled officials when he suggested the December 1979 invasion and decade-long occupation, which ended in a Soviet withdrawal in 1989, was the principal reason the Soviet Union collapsed two years later, and not a costly and escalating arms race with the United States.