On the first leg of his trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has told his Afghan hosts that Washington will remain in the country beyond 2014 if that is what Afghans want.
Biden said Washington was not in Afghanistan to "govern" but would offer support beyond 2014, when U.S. and other foreign forces plan to hand over control of security to Afghan forces.
Biden made the comments at a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai following an official meeting.
"We are not leaving in 2014. Hopefully we will have totally turned over [security responsibilities] to the Afghan security forces to maintain the security in the country," Biden said.
"But we are not leaving if you don't want us to leave. And we plan on continuing to work with you and it's in the mutual self-interest of both our nations."
Currently the United States has nearly 100,000 out of about 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. A December war review by President Barack Obama said that the United States was on track to begin a drawdown in July.
That drawdown is part of an ambitious NATO-backed plan for Afghans to take the lead in securing the whole country in 2014.
Mending Ties In Kabul
It is the first trip to Afghanistan by Biden as vice president.
Biden has been openly critical of Karzai in the past, questioning his credibility as a partner and accusing him of not doing enough to tackle government corruption.
Last year the Afghan president, for his part, accused Washington of meddling and even threatened to join the Taliban.
The two leaders, who are widely known to have clashed in a meeting in January 2009, gave an upbeat assessment of their meeting today.
Biden also moved to reassure Karzai that Washington would not attempt to micromanage Afghan affairs. He said that Afghans were capable of building up their own institutions and that the United States was not in the war-torn country to "nation-build."
"It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build. This is the responsibility of the Afghan people and they are fully capable of it," Biden told reporters alongside Karzai.
Biden's visit comes after the end of the most violent years of the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.
U.S. forces claim to have made major advances in the southern Kandahar Province, where the Taliban originated in the 1990s and which is still counted as among their strongholds.
Obama's December war review highlighted "notable operational gains" and claimed that the Taliban's momentum had been "arrested" in much of the country and reversed in some areas.
Biden repeated that assertion today, though he noted that such success was "fragile and reversible."
"Our military is breaking the momentum of the insurgents and the radicalized portions of the Taliban," Biden said. "Our diplomats are working hard along with the president to promote regional cooperation, including with your neighbor Pakistan."
Biden will travel to Islamabad today, where he is due to meet Pakistani civilian and military leaders.
compiled from agency reports