KABUL – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday the US should clarify remarks President Donald Trump made about Afghanistan, including a claim he could easily win the war but didn’t “want to kill 10 million people.
Trump had made several controversial statements a day earlier alongside Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, including that he could end the war in a matter of days but “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth.
His comments sparked outrage in Afghanistan.
The war-weary and traumatized population is already worried about a precipitous pull-out of U.S. forces — after nearly 18 years — and whether that means a quick return to rule by the Islamist extremist Taliban, and civil war.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for clarification on the U.S. president’s statements expressed at a meeting with the Pakistan prime minister, via diplomatic means and channels,” Ghani’s office said in a statement.
Afghanistan “would be gone. It would be over in literally, in 10 days,” Trump said. He added: “I don’t want to go that route,” and didn’t want to kill millions.
Trump’s statements came as his peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, traveled to Kabul ahead of a new round of peace talks with the Taliban.
The insurgents — who now control or influence about half of Afghanistan’s territory — have been talking to Washington about a possible deal that would see foreign military forces quit in return for various security guarantees.
Trump also said Pakistan would help the U.S. “extricate” itself from Afghanistan, adding there was “tremendous potential” in the relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
Afghanistan has long blamed Pakistan for fueling the Afghan conflict and for supporting the Taliban, which Islamabad denies.
Ghani is furious about being continually sidelined by the U.S. in ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.
Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban, who have waged an insurgency since they were ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, is seen as crucial to facilitating a political settlement with Ghani’s government.
“While the Afghan government supports the U.S. efforts for ensuring peace in Afghanistan, the government underscores that foreign heads of state cannot determine Afghanistan’s fate in absence of the Afghan leadership,” Ghani’s office said.
Some Afghans took to social media to vent after Trump’s comments.
“I feel shocked, threatened and humiliated. We trusted Americans to help us in the war against terror, and now President Trump is threatening us with genocide,” Facebook user Mohd Farhad wrote.
“I cannot believe he said it. I know it is him but I’m still in shock,” wrote Nadene Ghouri, another Facebook user.
Trump’s envoy, Khalilzad, arrived in Kabul on Tuesday ahead of a trip to the Qatari capital Doha for a new round of direct talks with the Taliban.
Those discussions are expected to begin in the coming days, with Ghani and his administration once again locked out.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has set an ambitious goal of securing a deal by Sept. 1.
In a tweet, Khalilzad said he would be “focused on achieving an enduring peace that ends the war, ensures terrorists do not use Afghanistan to threaten the US, honors the sacrifices that US, our allies & Afghans made, and cements an enduring relationship w/ Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesman late Tuesday issued a statement in Pashto condemning Trump’s remarks, and asking him to move toward a solution to the conflict in a sensible manner.
Even as the U.S. pushes for a deal, violence in Afghanistan has in recent weeks intensified. Both Afghan forces and the Taliban claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other.