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Biden says coalition entering new phase in Afghanistan

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Jan. 11, 2011) -- The coalition in Afghanistan has moved into a "new phase" said Vice President Joe Biden Jr. today during his visit to Kabul.

Biden traveled Jan. 10 to meet with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai; Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan; and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the International Security Assistance Force.

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The coalition in Afghanistan is in transition now, "to a full Afghan lead that begins this year and will conclude in 2014, as we prepare a framework for our future bilateral relations," the vice president said. "This is President Obama's vision for the future. It's a vision expressed by our allies at the Lisbon Conference. And I believe, based on our conversation today, it clearly reflects the vision of President Karzai."

Biden went on to say that this year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will begin to transition responsibility over the security in certain Afghan provinces to the government of Afghanistan, while at the same time, the United States begins a "condition-based" reduction of forces beginning in July.

"All of this will advance our shared U.S.-Afghani objective of having an Afghan National Security Force in the lead throughout all of Afghanistan by 2014, as President Karzai wisely proposed," Biden said.

The vice president also said that after 2014, the United States would not leave Afghanistan, if the Afghans wanted the United States to stay. However, he said, he expected that security of the country would be the responsibility of Afghanistan.

"We are not leaving, if you don't want us to leave," Biden said. "We plan on continuing to work with you, and it's in the mutual self-interest of both our nations."

While on his visit to Afghanistan, the vice president was able to tour an installation where he met with Afghan Soldiers and witnessed their training. There, he said, he saw American Soldiers working together with the Afghanis "to train up a first-class military organization that will be eventually in the position to meet all of the Afghan security needs," Biden said.

Now, however, Biden said the U.S. military in Afghanistan is working to break down insurgent activity and American diplomats are working with Karzai to develop regional cooperation that includes Pakistan.

Gains in Afghanistan over insurgents are fragile, Biden said. And sustaining the gains will require the support and cooperation of Afghan's neighbors.

"These gains ... are fragile and reversible," Biden said. "Sustaining them is going to require the Afghans to assume the responsibility for security and governance. And it's going to require more pressure -- more pressure on the Taliban, from Pakistan's side of the border, than we've been ... able to exert so far."

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