WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday the United States had no choice but to substantially increase its presence in Afghanistan because America would be "in real trouble" if the Karzai government fails.
But Biden also acknowledged in a nationally broadcast interview that much of the terrorist threat originates in neighboring Pakistan, and said the Obama administration is redoubling efforts to get greater cooperation from Islamabad.
President Barack Obama has approved sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total there to nearly 100,000, a far heavier commitment than the United States had as recently as the summer of 2008.
In an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Biden said the new strategy is not about occupying Afghanistan or rebuilding it.
"It's a fundamental change in terms of the strategy, defeating al-Qaida," he said.
Asked why the U.S. is making a much heavier commitment to Afghanistan than Pakistan, Biden said that both nations are strategically vital. He also said "we would be in real trouble if a vacuum is created and there is chaos and the government in Afghanistan fails." He said it would be difficult to guess what the response would be from Russia, China and Iraq, among others, in the region.
"So this surge is in the service of stabilizing Afghanistan," Biden said, "to allow us to do the job with al-Qaida in Pakistan."
He said the Pakistanis still "have a long way to go" in terms of cooperating with the United States, but said progress has been made there. Biden said it would have been difficult to say a few years ago that Gen. Pervez Musharraf would have stepped down and yielded power in Pakistan "without bloodshed."
"Are they doing enough? No," he said. "But it's amazing how much reality has a way of intruding upon people's plans ... So this is a process and the process is working."
On Afghanistan, Biden said that Obama "has made something exquisitely clear to each of the generals. ... He has said to the generals, do not occupy what you cannot turn over. ... We do not want to own Afghanistan. We just want to make sure the Taliban is diminished significantly enough so that the Afghan government can contain it and get on with reconciliation."
Obama said in his Dec. 1 West Point speech on Afghanistan that he has set July 2011 as a date to commence drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan if conditions permit.
Said Biden: "We've got to make it clear to the Afghans: You're about to have control of your country. ... And we've got to get this across."