Biden promises long-term US support for Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan - Vice President-elect Joe Biden pledged long-term American support for Afghanistan during a visit yesterday, and the commander of NATO-led forces told him that thousands of new American troops expected this year will need more support against surging Taliban violence.
President-elect Barack Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq and refocus American military efforts on Afghanistan. Biden's visit is considered a sign that Obama plans to make the region an immediate priority.
In a meeting with President Hamid Karzai, Biden "talked about . . . the fight against terrorism, American troop increases as well as equipping and supplying of the Afghan forces," a statement from Karzai's office said, without providing any details.
Earlier, America's top commander in Afghanistan, Army General David McKiernan, told Biden that thousands of new American troops expected in the country's south will need more support to beat back surging Taliban violence.
About 32,000 US troops in Afghanistan serve alongside another 32,000 other NATO-led and coalition troops, the highest number since the invasion to oust the Taliban from power began in 2001.
The United States is rushing up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and some will go to its volatile southern provinces to combat the spiraling violence.
"General McKiernan explained the current situation and talked about the incoming troops and the need for additional enablers . . . things like helicopters, engineers, military police, transportation assets," said Colonel Greg Julian, a US military spokesman. "As we expand in the south we will need those additional enablers to cover for the troops."
Southern Afghanistan has become the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, which left some 6,400 people - mostly militants - dead in 2008 alone.
Foreign and Afghan troops are the target of daily roadside bombings and suicide attacks. In 2008, 151 American troops died in the country, more than in any other year since 2001.
Obama has called Afghanistan an "urgent crisis," saying it's time to heed the call from US commanders for significantly more American troops.
Biden also discussed Afghanistan's priorities for 2009 with the United Nations' top representative for the country, Kai Eide, UN spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
"Their meeting touched on security, political and developmental issues, including donor coordination, police reform and regional cooperation," Edwards said.
During his meetings at NATO's Kabul headquarters, the senator also applauded some of the US troops stationed there.
"Thank you. I mean it sincerely," Biden told the troops, according to a NATO statement. "It's a big, big deal, what you're doing here. You're making a big sacrifice in a [challenging] environment. Thank you for your service." Biden and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of south Carolina, also visited the Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Biden's office said.
Biden, the longtime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Graham are on a congressional tour of various countries in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
Their visit to Afghanistan followed a trip to neighboring Pakistan, where aides said the senators met with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.