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Biden Asks NATO for Aid in Afghanistan

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says Afghanistan and Pakistan increasingly pose a single security challenge for the western allies as well as non-NATO nations equally. Video by AP
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By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

BRUSSELS, March 10 -- Vice President Biden told NATO allies here Tuesday that the Obama administration wants their help building a new strategy in Afghanistan because growing security threats there affect all 26 countries in the alliance and because only by working together can they stop terrorist attacks.

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Biden, on a one-day visit to the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, sought primarily to dissipate the irritation left behind by the Bush administration in Europe, which felt its voice was not being heard in Washington, a U.S. official said. But at the same time, the official said, the vice president's consultations were aimed at getting European countries involved in a broad strategic review now underway, as a way of persuading them to contribute more to the military and nation-building campaigns that European and U.S. leaders acknowledge are lagging badly.

"The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat, from our respect, not just to the United States of America, but to every single nation around this table," Biden told a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, a grouping of NATO ambassadors that serves as the organization's main decision-making forum. "None of us can escape the responsibility to meet these threats," he added at a news conference afterward.

President Obama ordered the strategy review to be ready for a NATO summit scheduled for April 3-4 on the French-German border. In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week convened a ministerial conference on Afghanistan for March 31 embracing the United States, its NATO allies and Afghanistan's neighbors, including Iran.

Biden said at the news conference that he had invited NATO countries, along with 14 other nations contributing to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, to come forward swiftly with proposals that could be incorporated into the U.S. review and presented at the two gatherings as a joint strategy. "I pledged to them, as I pledge to all Europeans now, that we will incorporate their ideas into our strategic review," he said.

Suggesting the message had been received, NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said, "It is important that this alliance deliver in the short term."

Despite the administration's call for more troop contributions from its allies, Biden avoided making specific requests for increased deployments. This is a tender subject, since several European governments have already said they are unwilling to contribute more soldiers.

Obama recently decided to send an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to join the 38,000-strong U.S. force in Afghanistan. He made it clear he is seeking similar additions to the 25,000-member contingent of non-U.S. forces in Afghanistan, many of whom are engaged in noncombat missions, along with increased commitments in money and supplies for the rebuilding effort that many experts say is just as important as the military campaign.

But Biden indicated at the news conference that the Obama administration is also willing to listen to European suggestions that Western goals in Afghanistan should be scaled back, saying they must be "clear and achievable." He endorsed Obama's recent assessment that the war in Afghanistan is not being won at present.

Taliban guerrillas have reasserted authority across a widening swath of the country and stepped up the tempo of their attacks on Afghan government and Western military forces. In the latest attack, a roadside bomb Tuesday killed four civilians and wounded a half-dozen near Kandahar, Afghan officials said. In addition, mountainous stretches along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border remain largely beyond government control and continue to offer sanctuary to al-Qaeda followers and, intelligence agencies say, Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants.

A minimum definition of victory, Biden said, would be a country that no longer includes such a haven for terrorists and that is stable enough to sustain its own development and provide for its own defense.

As suggested by Obama last week, reaching that point might include opening a dialogue with some elements of the Taliban, whose Islamist government the United States helped oust in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Biden said. He estimated that 5 percent of Taliban followers are "incorrigible" and must be defeated militarily. But 25 percent may be open to persuasion, he suggested, and 70 percent are following their local Taliban leaders only for economic rewards.

There is no guarantee such dialogue would produce results, he said, but the only way to find out would be to try. This, he reminded reporters, was the case in building relationships with Sunni nationalists and tribal leaders in Iraq who were pried away from the al-Qaeda-led insurgency there.



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