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Biden Addresses Afghanistan, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2010 – “We are making progress on all fronts” in Afghanistan, although “more in some areas than others,” and remain on track to begin the U.S. troop drawdown in July, Vice President Joe Biden said this morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014,” Biden said. He offered assurance that the initial withdrawal “will not be a token amount” of troops, and likely will follow the model used to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq.

Citing the Afghanistan strategy review issued this week, Biden reported “great progress” in the counterterrorism effort that has significantly degraded al-Qaida and the Taliban, particularly their leadership. Lagging behind, he said, is progress on the counterinsurgency front – eliminating terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and building a stable Afghan government.

President Barack Obama has made clear he wants to see these efforts accelerated, Biden said. “We are working very hard” on them “and making some progress,” he reported.

Biden said the intelligence community is united in its belief that Osama bin Laden and his central al-Qaida organization no longer have the capacity to pull off a 9/11-type attack on the United States. However, he acknowledged that al-Qaida-related affiliates outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan area have demonstrated their ability to plan and conduct “much smaller bore but yet deadly attempts to go after the United States.”

“We have significantly degraded and knocked off a lot of the main planners and organizers and trainers,” Biden said. “Does that mean we have succeeded? No. Does that mean we are in much better shape than we were a year ago and two or three? Yes.”

Turning to other issues, Biden welcomed the Senate’s vote yesterday to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

By repealing it, the U.S. military joins seven of its major allies around the world, along with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and most of the American people in recognizing that sexual orientation has no impact on military capability, he said.

In fact, the repeal will benefit the military by allowing a group that had been barred from serving in uniform to contribute. “We will not be squandering the abilities of combat soldiers, as well as interpreters who happen to have a different sexual preference, who happen to be gay or happen to be lesbian,” Biden said.

Regarding the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Biden expressed confidence that the Senate has the votes needed to ensure ratification.

Obama, Gates, Mullen and other U.S. leaders have pressed Congress to pass the measure before recessing for the holidays.

Biden cited broad, bipartisan support for the treaty by current and former U.S. leaders who recognize it as “essential for U.S. security.”

The hold-up on the vote, he said, revolves around “legitimate” but groundless fears that it will jeopardize missile defense plans. He cited “concerns about whether we are going to make good on our commitment to deploy all four phases of the missile defense system in Europe.”

Biden offered an emphatic: “We are.”

As the interview turned to budget items, Biden said he and the president disagree with some of the earmarks but recognize that they may have to accept some of them to get funding where it’s needed, including the military effort in Afghanistan.

"It could be very well that you end up in a situation where you say, "Okay, in order to be able to have the funding for the continuation, the support for the troops in Afghanistan, we have to accept an earmark. And that’s what the Congress sends us,” he said. “Are we gonna veto a bill that would jeopardize troop safety? Probably not.

“If we say we have to support a levee in Mississippi in order to make sure my kid who’s out in the middle of Iraq or Afghanistan gets what he needs, I’m gonna say, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to do it. But I may have to do it,’” Biden said. “It depends on the proportions. It depends on what’s at stake.”

 

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