Vice President Biden was in Afghanistan yesterday to repair damange he himself had caused to the war effort. You may recall that in December, as the White House was renouncing its deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistana in July 2011, Vice President Biden was telling Meet The Press U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan “come hell or high water” by 2014.
The Vice President was reportedly strongly opposed to the strategy adopted by the Administration in its last two Afghanistan reviews – of giving the military commanders the resources they believe they need to achieve the President’s objectives. If press accounts are to be believed, Biden favored breaking the country into thirds (a bad idea he also advocated in Iraq) or relying exclusively on drone strikes rather than working with Afghans.
So it is altogether fitting that Vice President Biden was sent to Kabul to eat crow, reassuring President Karzai of America’s long-term commitment and reassuring American forces fighting the war of the Administration’s commitment to its stated policy. At a press conference with President Karzai, the Vice President affirmed that “we have a strategy and the resources in place to accomplish the goal of a stable and growing and independent Afghanistan able to provide for its own security.”
Biden also acknowledged the military’s success: “we have largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar.” These are important admissions from the Administration’s strongest internal critic of the war. He said all the magic words: that drawdowns would be conditions-based, that American military forces would continue to train and assist Afghan forces even after 2014. Most importantly, he said “the United States, if the Afghan people want it, are prepared, and we are not leaving in 2014.”
None of this means the Vice President will not reverse himself as the Administration considers how many troops to withdraw beginning in July. The military leadership understands the need to give the President a face-saving token reduction but do not believe the operational environment justifies significant reductions; they see the momentum shifting to our side and want to sustain the pace of operations the surge has allowed so that we can win this war. Vice President Biden and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon are said to be pushing for as many as 10,000 troops to be withdrawn. Let us hope the Vice President has come to believe what he said in Kabul yesterday so that the Administration will see this war through to successful conclusion.