- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan

Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. promised U.S. support for Afghanistan’s struggle against terrorism, drugs and corruption, in a surprise visit Sunday to a dangerous Taliban-stronghold area of Afghanistan.

The future of the region where al Qaeda planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mr. Biden said, “affects us all.”

President-elect Barack Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq and refocus U.S. military efforts on Afghanistan, where al Qaeda-linked militants and the Taliban are making a comeback after initial defeats in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

The U.S. is rushing up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and some will go to these southern provinces.

Southern Afghanistan is one of the centers of the Afghan Taliban-led insurgency, which left about 6,400 people dead in 2008 alone.

The southern provinces are also the world’s largest drug-producing areas, and hundreds of millions of dollars from the trade finance the insurgency, as well as feed the corruption among government officials.

Mr. Biden said the U.S. will continue with its struggle against terrorism, but also fight the drug trade and help the government tackle the corruption in its midst, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for Ghulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province.

Mr. Biden met Mr. Mangal and other Afghan officials at a coalition base on the outskirts of Helmand’s provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, Mr. Ahmadi said.

“I am very interested in what becomes of this region, because it affects us all,” Mr. Biden said during his visit to the neighboring Kandahar province, according to a statement issued by the NATO-led force. He was on the second day of his trip to Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden was briefed on activities of coalition forces in the south by Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart C. de Kruif, NATO’s regional commander. They discussed “the future of southern Afghanistan, to include the addition of American troops later this year,” the statement said.

About 32,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan serve alongside 32,000 other NATO-led and coalition troops, the highest number since the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban from power began in 2001.

American, British, Canadian and Dutch troops bore the brunt of the fighting in this region in the last two years, and NATO’s call for other nations to join the fight have fallen on deaf ears.

Mr. Biden “reaffirmed his and President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to fully support troops and their efforts in the region,” the NATO statement said.

America’s top general in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, told Mr. Biden on Saturday that thousands of new American troops expected in the country’s south will need more support items “like helicopters, engineers, military police, transportation assets,” said Col. Greg Julian, a U.S. military spokesman.

Mr. Biden’s two-day visit to Afghanistan follows his trip to neighboring Pakistan, where he met with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

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