WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2011 — Vice President Joe Biden’s trip this week to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan gave him a chance to spotlight deployed U.S. forces, especially those remaining in Iraq, a White House official told reporters en route here aboard Biden’s return flight.
“U.S. troops continue on an important and dangerous mission, and [the vice president] wanted to make sure that they get the credit they deserve for the extraordinary job that they’re doing every day,” the official said.
Biden also wanted, he said, “to talk to our folks at the State Department and the Embassy for assuming a tremendous responsibility and going forward, as they pick up a lot of the responsibilities that our military has had.”
The trip, which began Jan. 10 in Afghanistan, also marked Biden’s seventh visit to Iraq since 2009.
Biden visited U.S. and coalition troops and civilians this week, including a crowd of more than 200 service members and civilians at Camp Victory in Iraq, a military training site near the Afghan capital of Kabul with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO military commander in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry. He also traveled to Forward Operating Base Airborne in Afghanistan’s Wardak province.
“We’ve moved from the surge last year to the beginning of the transition to Afghan lead responsibility,” the White House official said. “And there is agreement that that transition will begin this year.”
Turning back to Iraq, the official discussed the way forward there. “We are going down from 50,000 troops to no troops as we make good on the agreement between the United States and Iraq,” the official said. “We are building up our civilian engagement [and] building up the embassy effort. The State Department [and] the embassy are taking responsibilities that are quite remarkable in their breadth and in their depth.”
Efforts in Afghanistan, the official told reporters, are geared toward preparing the Afghans to take responsibility for their country’s security. “In July, we will start some drawdown of U.S. forces,” the official said. “And by 2014 the Afghans will have responsibility for security throughout the country.”
Hard work is required to get “from here to there,” the official acknowledged.
“There are significant problems that we still have to overcome,” the official said, “and the gains that we’ve made to date, everyone acknowledges, are fragile. They remain reversible. And so the pace and scale of the drawdown will be very much dependent on where we are in July.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has had concerns about some policies, the official said.
“He’s had long-standing concerns about civilian casualties. We’ve made a huge effort to reduce them, and we have,” the official said. “He’s had concerns about some of the other aspects of our strategy that we’ve also worked hard to see if we could change to … make sure that we’re all on the same page.”
The official said Iraq’s formation of a new government is a very significant achievement, and that the big story in Iraq over the last couple of years is the emergence of politics, not violence, as the basic way of doing business.
“It took the Iraqis a long time, but they got a government and they got it by working together in the political system,” the official said. “It brings in virtually all of the different major blocs representing the major communities, and that has real promise for moving Iraq forward.”
President Barack Obama is intent on keeping a sustained focus from the White House on ending the war in Iraq responsibly, the official said, “because that’s ultimately what this is about, and building a strong relationship with Iraq.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)