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Trump offers questionable retelling of Afghan war, Mattis firing during televised Cabinet briefing

He also gave justification for policy decisions in Afghanistan and Syria

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump held a Cabinet meeting Wednesday during which he stated that he had fired former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for a poor performance and claimed that the former Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan had led to the USSR's collapse.

No new timeline, but Trump justifies troop withdrawal from Syria

In December, Trump announced that he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria because the U.S. had "defeated ISIS." After this announcement, Mattis and Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS, resigned in protest. Members of his own party criticized Trump for abandoning U.S. Kurdish allies who are caught between the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, against whom they had rebelled, and Turkish forces determined to wipe the Kurds off the face of the planet.

Other high ranking members of the Republican Party, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), called the move an "Obama-like mistake," and argued that ISIS had not yet been defeated.

During his Cabinet meeting, Trump refused to give a specific timeline for the troop withdrawal but stressed that he did not think there was a point in having U.S. forces remain in Syria.

"We're talking about sand and death," he said, describing Syria. "We're not talking about vast wealth. We're talking about sand and death.

"The Kurds, it's very interesting, Turkey doesn't like them, other people do," he said. "I didn't like the fact that they're selling the small oil that they have to Iran, and we asked them not to sell it to Iran.

"The Kurds, our partners, are selling oil to Iran. We're not thrilled about that, OK? I'm not happy about it at all," he continued. "But we want to protect the Kurds, nevertheless, we want to protect the Kurds."

According to Trump, he 'essentially' fired Mattis

On Dec. 20, Mattis tenured his resignation as Defense Secretary. In his resignation letter, Mattis expressed his displeasure with Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria. At the time, the plan was for him to stay on as defense secretary until Feb. 28, or until a replacement could be found. However, by Dec. 23, Trump announced that Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would be taking over starting Tuesday, Jan. 1.

During Wednesday's Cabinet briefing, Trump gave a different version of events. He argued that he had fired Mattis because he had been disappointed with the secretary's performance.

"I wish him well. I hope he does well. But as you know, President Obama fired him and essentially so did I," Trump said. "What's he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good. I'm not happy with what he's done in Afghanistan, and I shouldn't be happy."

Trump continued to criticize the role of not just Mattis, but all U.S. generals in Afghanistan. Trump said he "gave our generals all the money they wanted" but that "they didn't do such a great job in Afghanistan."

Trump claimed that Afghanistan brought down the Soviet Union

According to Trump, Afghanistan brought down the Soviet Union.

Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So, you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there. They should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting. The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you're reading about are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.

But that version of events is questionable at best. In the 1970s, Afghanistan had a communist government closely allied with the Soviet Union. When local insurgents tried to overthrow that government in 1979, the Soviet Union sent 30,000 troops to crush the insurrection and tried to reinstate the communist government. The U.S. supplied weapons to the Afghan rebels in an attempt to combat Soviet expansionism.

The war did drag on and tens of thousands of more Soviet troops were deployed. By 1988, the USSR had signed a deal to withdraw from Afghanistan completely.

The Soviet Union collapsed a few years later in 1991, due to the rampant failure of its communist policies, and increased pressure from the United States, particularly under the Reagan administration.

One last thing…
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