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Biden Cites Mounting Problems In Afghanistan, But Says War 'Far From Lost'

  • Ulrich Speck

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks to NATO representatives in Brussels.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks to NATO representatives in Brussels.

BRUSSELS -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in Brussels to discuss the future of Afghanistan with NATO allies and the European Union, spoke grimly of what he called the "deteriorating situation" in the South Asia region.

In opening remarks, Biden told the 26 NATO ambassadors in Brussels that the Taliban insurgency presents a grave threat to each of their countries.

"The deteriorating situation in the [South Asia] region poses a security threat from our perspective, not just to the United States, but to every single nation around this table," he said.

But at a press conference following talks with NATO partners, Biden followed on a recent statement by U.S. President Barack Obama, asserting that the eight-year Afghan campaign is not lost.

"I think the president is accurate," Biden said. "We are not now winning the war [in Afghanistan], but the war is far from lost."

'Minimum Goals'

Biden, whose visit to Brussels follows on the heels of a trip last week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said any future solution to Afghanistan could not be "purely military."

Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated. Another 25 percent or so are not quite sure, in my view, of the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency. And roughly 70 percent are involved because of the money, because of getting paid.
He sketched out "minimum goals" for Afghanistan -- that the country should not become a safe haven for terrorists, and that it should be able "to sustain itself" with regards to security.

Biden also confirmed Obama's announcement that the U.S. is supporting the idea of negotiations with the Taliban, a move that has been welcomed by the Afghan government.

He said he believes a majority of Taliban fighters are engaged in the fight for purely economic reasons.

"Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated," Biden said. "Another 25 percent or so are not quite sure, in my view, of the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency. And roughly 70 percent are involved because of the money, because of getting paid."

The U.S. vice president affirmed that Washington considers it essential to have NATO and European allies participate in the Afghan strategy review, and promised that their ideas would be "built in" to the new strategy.

Revised Afghan Strategy


The future approach on Afghanistan would be include four elements, Biden said, echoing a statement he made at the Munich security conference last month: a regional approach that includes Pakistan; a combination of military with civilian and diplomatic efforts; the future buildup of Afghan security forces; and the legitimization of the political process through Afghan presidential elections scheduled for this August.

Biden is due to meet with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana later in the day.

Washington is expected to unveil a revised Afghan strategy at a NATO summit on April 3-4. Biden said his Brussels trip was an opportunity to "listen" to the view of U.S. allies on growing unrest in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama has already said he will dispatch 17,000 extra U.S. troops to complement the 70,000 international soldiers already in Afghanistan.

Getting allies to follow suit is an uphill struggle.

Not Only Military Assistance


Canada is planning to pull out from Afghanistan's volatile south in 2011, while new troop pledges from European allies number in the hundreds and come with time limits. Germany, for example, has said it will send 600 soldiers to help provide security around the time of the presidential elections in August.

U.S. officials have indicated they are not only looking for military assistance. In response, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said the bloc will boost its police-training mission in Afghanistan. An effective Afghan police force is considered essential for the country's long-term stability. The EU currently has 190 trainers on the ground.

The EU has welcomed plans announced by Clinton last week to invite Iran to participate at an upcoming high-level regional conference on Afghanistan.

Part of Washington's new strategy appears to be an attempt to reach out to moderate insurgents. Obama told "The New York Times" over the weekend that there may be "opportunities" in the Afghanistan-Pakistani border region to emulate the success the U.S. had in negotiating with tribal leaders in Iraq -- although he cautioned that the situation regarding Afghanistan is more "complicated."

But a Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, told Reuters that the departure of all foreign troops from Afghanistan remains the only way to put a stop to the escalating violence in the country.

RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas contributed to this story.

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