Biden in Afghanistan for talks with Karzai

US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Afghanistan on Monday on a trip for talks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and visit with US troops.

Biden is to check on US efforts to begin a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in July, a timetable that has drawn criticism from some Republicans in the US Congress who fear abandoning a key ally.

Biden's trip was not announced in advance for security reasons.

"The primary purpose of the trip is 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," a White House official said.

Karzai and his Western backers want Afghan security forces to assume security responsibility by the end of 2014.

Upon landing at Kabul's airport aboard Air Force Two, Biden flew a helicopter to the US Embassy in Kabul for talks with General David Petraeus, chief of US forces in Afghanistan, and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

Biden will also meet US service members and civilian personnel, and tour an Afghan National Army Training Center.

The trip is Biden's first time in Afghanistan as vice president. He was last in the country in January 2009.

Violence is at its worst in Afghanistan with record casualties on all sides of the conflict and with the insurgency spreading from traditional strongholds in the south and east into once-peaceful areas in the north and west.

A review by US President Barack Obama last month found U.S. and NATO forces were making headway against the Taliban and al Qaeda, but serious challenges remained. It said the Taliban's momentum had been arrested in much of Afghanistan and reversed in some areas.

The review also said the United States was on track to begin a gradual withdrawal of its troops -- numbering about 97,000 in a total foreign force of some 150,000 -- in July. The pace and scope of the drawdown remains unclear, however.

"We're not here to govern Afghanistan, we're not here to nation build, we're not here to secure Afghanistan for the Afghans. Those are responsibilities that belong to the Afghans," the White House official said.

"The only purpose of our mission now is to help put the Afghans in a position where they can fully assume the responsibilities of governing the country and securing the country," the official said.

The United States is temporarily sending 1,400 more Marines to Afghanistan in an effort to hold onto fragile security gains, but overall US troop levels will not surpass previously announced limits, the Pentagon said last week.
 

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