US vice president-elect Joe Biden pledged long-term US support for Afghanistan during a visit and the commander of NATO-led forces told him that thousands of new US troops expected this year will need more support against surging Taliban violence.
US president-elect Barack Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq and refocus US military efforts on Afghanistan. Biden’s visit is a sign that Obama plans to make the region an immediate priority.
In a meeting on Saturday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Biden “talked about ... the fight against terrorism, American troop increases as well as equipping and supplying of the Afghan forces,” a statement from Karzai’s office said, without providing any details.
Earlier, the top US general in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, told Biden that thousands of new US troops expected in the country’s south would need more support to beat back surging Taliban violence.
Some 32,000 US troops in Afghanistan serve alongside another 32,000 other NATO-led and coalition troops, the highest number since the invasion to oust the Taliban from power began in 2001.
The US is rushing up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and some will go to its volatile southern provinces to combat the spiraling violence.
“General McKiernan explained the current situation and talked about the incoming troops and the need for additional enablers ... things like helicopters, engineers, military police, transportation assets,” said Colonel Greg Julian, a US military spokesman. “As we expand in the south, we will need those additional enablers to cover for the troops.”
Southern Afghanistan has become the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, that left some 6,400 people — mostly militants — dead last year alone.
Foreign and Afghan troops are the target of daily roadside bombings and suicide attacks. Last year, 151 US troops died in the country, more than in any other year since 2001.
Obama has called Afghanistan an “urgent crisis,” saying it’s time to heed the call from US commanders for significantly more troops.
Biden also discussed Afghanistan’s priorities for this year with the UN’s top representative for the country, Kai Eide, UN spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
“Their meeting touched on security, political and developmental issues, including donor coordination, police reform and regional cooperation,” Edwards said.
During his meetings at NATO’s Kabul headquarters, Biden also applauded some of the US troops stationed there.
“Thank you, I mean it sincerely,” Biden told the troops, a NATO statement said.
“It’s a big, big deal, what you’re doing here. You’re making a big sacrifice in a [challenging] environment. Thank you for your service,” he said.
The senator from Delaware will take office as Obama’s vice president on Jan. 20.
Biden and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also visited the Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Biden’s office said.
Biden’s visit to Afghanistan follows his trip to neighboring Pakistan, where aides said he met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Biden’s tour comes after five US soldiers were killed in two separate attacks in southern Afghanistan and as US officials warned the violence would likely intensify in the coming year.