KABUL, (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and military leaders on Saturday in Afghanistan, which will become a top foreign policy priority of the new administration.
One of the first decisions U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make is to approve the deployment of up to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to try to stem the strengthening Taliban insurgency before Afghan elections due in September.
Biden also met General David McKiernan, commander of the 65,000-strong international troop presence in Afghanistan. “It’s a big, big deal what you’re doing here. You’re making a big sacrifice in a (challenging) environment,” NATO quoted Biden as telling U.S. troops in Kabul, before telling McKiernan he looked forward to working with him.
Earlier, Biden met the U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan Kai Eide and discussed security, donor coordination, police reform and regional cooperation. Eide said the meeting was very constructive.
Biden, chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a long time, has made many trips to Afghanistan and diplomats say he has a detailed knowledge of the country.
After U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government for sheltering the al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks, analysts say President George W. Bush’s administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan by diverting military and financial resources to Iraq.
The Taliban regrouped and relaunched their insurgency in mid-2005 and fighting has spread from the militant heartlands in the south and east to the outskirts of the capital Kabul.
The first batch of U.S. reinforcements, some 3,000 troops, is due in Afghanistan this month, taking up positions just south and southwest of Kabul.
Most of the rest of the extra forces are likely to be sent to the south to break the stalemate between the Taliban and mainly British, Canadian and Dutch troops there.