KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan called on Tuesday for an explanation of comments by U.S. President Donald Trump in which he said he could win the Afghan war in just 10 days by wiping out the country, but did not want “to kill 10 million people.”
Trump’s remarks followed a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday at which Trump voiced optimism that Pakistan could help broker a political settlement to end the nearly 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.
The remarks drew a stiff response from Afghanistan’s presidential palace, which has been excluded from talks between the United States and the Taliban and which accuses Pakistan of supporting the insurgency.
“The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate,” the presidential palace said.
“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,” it said in a statement.
The Afghan government has called for clarification of Trump’s statement.
In his comments in Washington on Monday, Trump said Pakistan was helping the United States “extricate” itself from Afghanistan, where the United States was acting as a “policeman” rather than fighting a war.
“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Trump told reporters at the White House where he was hosting Khan.
“I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be gone,” he said. “It would be over in - literally, in 10 days. And I don’t want to do - I don’t want to go that route.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Pentagon said it had a longstanding policy of not commenting on military planning.
“We are committed to the South Asia Strategy and fully support the administration’s efforts to achieve a political settlement that ends the war in Afghanistan,” said Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Senior Afghan politicians largely refrained from commenting, but the reaction on social media was swift.
“Your insulting message to (Afghanistan) is either accept the (Pakistani) proposal for peace or eventually you may have to use nukes,” former intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil wrote on Twitter.
“The statement was embarrassing and an insult to all Afghans,” said Shakib Noori, a Kabul-based entrepreneur.
Khaled Hosseini, the Afghan-American author of the best-selling novel, “The Kite Runner,” which introduced Afghanistan to many foreign readers, called Trump’s remarks “reckless, appalling.”
Others said the government had no effect recourse, pointing to its dependence on billions of dollars of aid from the United States every year.
“Those who feed you also command you,” one commenter, Yazdan Hatami, wrote on Facebook.
U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalizad, the veteran Afghan-American diplomat who has been leading negotiations with the Taliban, said the comment showed that only a political settlement made sense.
Trump “reiterated to the world that there is no reasonable military solution to the war in Afghanistan, and that peace must be achieved through a political settlement,” he wrote on Twitter. “Pakistan committed to do all it can to achieve peace.”
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and G Crosse