By Joshua Partlow and Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; A09
KABUL - Vice President Biden on Tuesday pledged long-term American support for Afghanistan, offering a commitment to help the war-torn nation beyond the 2014 target both countries have set to have Afghans fully in charge of their own security.
The day after he arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit, Biden toured a training academy for Afghan soldiers, had lunch with President Hamid Karzai and said he was confident of the effectiveness of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy.
"We've largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas," Biden said, speaking alongside Karzai. "But these gains - as you pointed out to me, Mr. President - we know are fragile and reversible."
During the intense Washington debate leading to the dispatch of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan last year, Biden argued for a smaller military footprint, more focused on counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.
"It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build," Biden said. "As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people, and they are fully capable of it."
But he stressed that the United States would continue to assist the Afghan government. "If the Afghan people want it, we won't leave in 2014," Biden said.
NATO, including the United States, has pledged economic and security assistance beyond 2014, and the United States is separately negotiating its own long-term strategic accord with Afghanistan. It is unclear whether any such agreement would involve an ongoing U.S. troop presence.
The vice president was expected to fly from Kabul to Islamabad early Wednesday for a one-day visit with senior Pakistani officials. Officials at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said Biden would meet separately with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, before leaving late Wednesday to return to the United States.
Pakistani sources in Washington said Biden's discussions would focus on the Obama administration's concerns over growing political instability and economic problems in Pakistan. The government's ruling coalition came close to collapse recently, and it was salvaged only after officials agreed to lower fuel prices, a populist concession that has alarmed international lenders and U.S. officials.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said Tuesday night that they could not confirm whether Biden would arrive in the Pakistani capital, but they said that if he did visit Pakistan, he would meet with the top three officials.
Constable reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.