By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 11, 2009
KABUL, Jan. 10 -- Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a heavily guarded visit to Afghanistan on Saturday, meeting with top Afghan and U.S. military leaders after a quick stop in Pakistan to stress continued U.S. support in the fight against terrorism across South Asia.
The Democratic senator from Delaware, accompanied by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), was briefed by top U.S. military officials as the United States prepares to make a major new commitment of troops and counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, which is facing an aggressive Taliban insurgency.
Biden also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom he has deemed weak and ineffective. Karzai, who is running for reelection, has excoriated U.S. forces for causing civilian casualties during bombing raids and more broadly has sought to distance himself from the foreign defense forces his government invited to help restore order after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.
A spokesman for the U.S. military here, Col. Gregory Julian, said Biden met with Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, who stressed that the plan to send as many as 30,000 additional U.S. troops to the country will require an array of military "enablers," including helicopters and a variety of supplies.
Biden, whose visit was shrouded in secrecy and included no public statements or press briefings, also spoke with NATO staff members at a military base in Kabul, telling them that their work is extremely important. U.S. Army photos, the only record of his visit, showed Biden greeting U.S. and NATO military staffers.
"It's a big, big deal, what you're doing here," Biden told the troops, according to a NATO statement. "You're making a big sacrifice in a [challenging] environment. Thank you for your service."
Biden, who is scheduled to assume the vice presidency after he and President-elect Barack Obama are sworn in on Jan. 20, arrived here Saturday from Pakistan, where he met with senior civilian and military leaders. Biden expressed support for Pakistan as an ally in fighting terrorism and urged the government to take an even tougher stand against Islamist extremism.
After his visits in Kabul, U.S and Afghan official sources said, Biden is expected to meet with Afghan leaders at an undisclosed location outside the capital Sunday.
The incoming Obama administration is preparing to make a major military and aid commitment to Afghanistan in hopes of curbing the Taliban insurgency and winning over the local populace.
Relations between Afghanistan and the United States have frayed in recent months, with Karzai accusing U.S. forces of an over-reliance on aerial bombings, which have killed Afghan civilians.
U.S. military sources here expressed deep concern and frustration Saturday over Karzai's recent rebuffs, saying that he seemed to be "reading from the Taliban script." Karzai has pushed for negotiations with the Taliban, while U.S. and NATO powers have said the group must be defeated through a combination of military might, aid and development of good governance.