Why Is Biden Making Surprise Visit to Afghanistan?

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Vice President Joe Biden has landed in Kabul for his first trip to Afghanistan since January 2009. That earlier visit ended poorly, with Biden storming out of a dinner meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. A White House statement says Biden is making the surprise trip "to assess progress toward the transition to Afghan-led security beginning in 2011, and to demonstrate our commitment to a long- term partnership with Afghanistan." What are the implications of Biden's first Afghanistan visit in two years?

  • All About Engaging Karzai  The Washington Post's Joshua Partlow writes, "The White House has seemed [more eager to] engage Karzai more directly in recent months, including more frequent discussions between the two leaders. On Dec. 3, Obama flew to Afghanistan for the second time as president and addressed U.S. troops at Bagram air base, although he canceled a helicopter trip to Kabul to see Karzai because of bad weather." Even the increase in U.S. troop numbers has in part been "an attempt to convince Afghan and Pakistani officials that the United States does not intend to abandon the region anytime soon. That is a message Biden is likely to reiterate to Karzai, while urging government reform and attention to the type of corruption that turns Afghans to the Taliban."
  • Emphasis on Handing Over the War to Afghans   "A senior administration official traveling with the vice president said Biden wants to assess the progress being made towards the transition from US forces to Afghan security forces," ABC News' Karen Travers reports. "This official emphasized that after the Lisbon summit in Dec. 2010, the US and Afghan leaders are in agreement about the 2014 timeline for Afghan forces assuming control of security. This official said that the purpose of the US mission there is to help the Afghans get into a position where they have responsibility to govern the country."
  • Recall that Biden Wants a Reduced U.S. Role  "Biden," Politico's Laura Rozen points out, "has been the most prominent administration principal advocating a minimized international mission to Afghanistan focused on counter-terrorism and training Afghan national security forces, and a skeptic of the surge." Does his arrival in Kabul signal that Biden's preference for a lighter footprint is becoming a more favored opinion in the White House?
  • Biden Also Headed to Pakistan with Aid Package  The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung has the details. "The Obama administration has decided to offer Pakistan more military, intelligence and economic support, and to intensify U.S. efforts to forge a regional peace, despite ongoing frustration that Pakistani officials are not doing enough to combat terrorist groups in the country's tribal areas," she writes. "That message will be delivered by Vice President Biden, who plans to travel to Pakistan next week for meetings with military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and top government leaders. Biden will challenge the Pakistanis to articulate their long-term strategy for the region and indicate exactly what assistance is needed for them to move against Taliban sanctuaries in areas bordering Afghanistan."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.