Vice President Biden assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday that the United States will not abandon the country after 2014 when the U.S.-led coalition plans to hand over control of security to the Afghans.
After months of acrimony over corruption and intensified NATO military operations, Biden said the two countries are now on the same page. He also assured the mercurial Karzai that the United States was not in his country to "govern" and said Afghans are capable of building up their own institutions.
"It is not our intention to govern or to nation build," Biden said, adding that if "the Afghan people want it, we won't leave in 2014."
President Obama has discussed maintaining a counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan after 2014, and the Afghan security force training program is expected to last until 2016. As recently as Dec. 16, Obama said the United States and its NATO allies would have an enduring presence there after 2014, although details were unclear.
Biden's positive remarks seemed to be part of a broader effort to improve an often rocky relationship between the United States and Karzai. The vice president's visit, which began Monday, comes at the start of what has been described by NATO officials as a key year in the fight to significantly diminish the combat strength of the Taliban.
"I think it's fair to say that we've largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar. But these gains -- as you pointed out to me Mr. President, as we know -- are fragile and reversible. And as the president knows, sustaining them is going to require the Afghans to assume the responsibility for security and governance," Biden said at a joint news conference.
Although military forces are making headway against the insurgency and have reclaimed parts of the south, it remains unclear whether the gains will be permanent.
A senior Obama administration official said the president asked Biden ahead of the meeting to relay his disappointment to Karzai that he was unable to travel to Kabul last month during his one-day trip to Afghanistan on Dec. 3. The White House said foul weather foiled plans to take Obama to the presidential palace in Kabul from Bagram Airfield, where he landed. The change of plans was seen by some in Karzai's circle as a snub.