- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In Afghanistan to monitor progress ahead of the American troop drawdown this summer, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. nevertheless assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the U.S. will continue to assist the fledgling nation, saying Tuesday that America is “not leaving if you don’t want us to leave.”

Mr. Biden said coalition forces have managed to stop Taliban momentum in key parts of the country but warned that the gains are “fragile and reversible.” He emphasized the need for strong Afghan forces, who are to assume the lead on security in 2014 under a NATO agreement, and cooperation from Pakistan to root out insurgents along its border.

The nine-year-old war in Afghanistan has been a defining piece of the administration’s foreign policy as President Obama ordered a 30,000 troop surge in the country while ratcheting down U.S. forces in Iraq. At the same time, the White House has been careful to predicate its build up on a promise of beginning to draw down those troops in July.

Mr. Biden arrived in Afghanistan Monday in a surprise visit aimed at tracking the nation’s progress as it begins a three-year transition toward taking charge of its own security.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Mr. Karzai, Mr. Biden stressed the U.S. is there to assist Afghan officials but not to interfere.

“It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build,” he said. “As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people and they are fully capable of it.”

Still, he pledged: “We are not leaving if you don’t want us to leave.”

Earlier, Mr. Biden held meetings with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Gen. David Petraeus.