Trip Enabled Biden to Spotlight Troops, Official Says

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)

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