Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Sunday that there will be an “uptick” in American casualties in Afghanistan as the U.S. military increases its presence in that country, which he characterized as “a real mess.”
The vice president’s prediction prompted outrage from liberal antiwar groups who characterized it as “cavalier,” although a leading scholar at a Washington neoconservative think tank called the Biden remarks an overdue recognition of reality.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai foreshadowed other difficulties Sunday with any “surge” of U.S. forces into his country, condemning a U.S. operation he said killed 16 Afghan civilians and demanding greater Afghan control of U.S. military operations.
Mr. Biden, in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” conducted from his home in Wilmington, Del., said the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, blaming a “failure to provide sufficient resources - economic, political and military - as well as failure to get a coherent policy among our allies - economically and politically and in terms of the military resources.”
He said corruption is “rife” because the Taliban is in “effective control of significant parts of the country they were not before” and because of the opium and heroin drug trade.
“The bottom line here is, we’ve inherited a real mess. We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost,” Mr. Biden said. “There are going to be some additional military forces. There are going to be additional efforts to train their police and to train their Afghan army. And all of that means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.”
President Obama has said he will send more troops to Afghanistan as he withdraws combat soldiers from the war in Iraq, insisting it is the real front to the “war on terror.”
CBS host Bob Schieffer asked Mr. Biden whether his comments mean more American casualties should be expected.
“I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be. There will be an uptick. Because as the commander in Afghanistan said, he said, ‘Joe, we will get this done, but we’re going to be engaging the enemy much more,’” the vice president said.
Leaders of antiwar groups that opposed Mr. Obama’s campaign calls to escalate the fight in Afghanistan were frustrated Sunday by Mr. Biden’s choice of words.
“It shows a kind of cavalier treatment of U.S. casualties by calling it an ‘uptick,’ as if there is just some little meter,” said Brian Becker, national coordinator of the Answer Coalition. “Behind the statistics are going to be grieving families and of course tragic loss of life.”
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, found Mr. Biden’s words “offensive” and called it a “terrible sign” that Mr. Biden is preparing the nation for the intensified conflict.
“We only need look at history of the British and Soviets to know that sending more troops is not going to solve the problem, it’s only going to mean more deaths on both sides,” she said.
Answer plans a march on the Pentagon on March 21 to “end the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Becker said.
“There were no Afghanis on those airplanes on September 11, yet since October 7, 2001, many thousands of Afghani people have died,” he said. “A military option is something of a fantasy. There’s no light at the end of that tunnel.”
Fred Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed with Mr. Biden’s assessment, saying “the situation is unquestionably bad. And certainly it is the case as you send more forces into Afghanistan, we can expect to take more casualties, as we saw in Iraq in 2007.”
But, he added, “the thing is that nothing that Biden said is news to anyone who is paying attention. We have all seen these problems for well over a year.”
According to an Associated Press report from Kabul, Mr. Karzai harshly criticized a Saturday U.S. raid in Laghman province and blamed these and other civilian deaths with “strengthening the terrorists.”
The U.S. says Saturday’s raid killed 15 armed militants, including a woman with a rocket-propelled grenade. But Afghan officials say the 16 deaths were all civilians, including two women and three children. Hundreds of villagers in Laghman’s capital denounced the American military during an angry demonstration Sunday.
Mr. Karzai also said Sunday that his Defense Ministry has sent to Washington and NATO headquarters in Brussels the draft of an agreement to give his government more oversight over U.S. and NATO military operations.
In his short CBS interview, Mr. Biden declined to speak about the U.S. use of missile-firing drones in Pakistan and along that nation’s Afghanistan border, saying it was “not appropriate” to do so. He also quoted Mr. Obama from the campaign trail that he would not hesitate to strike “if there is an actionable target, of a high-level al Qaeda personnel.”
But he did say there was “good news” from his last trip there.
“There is a great deal more cooperation going on now” between the U.S. and Pakistan in the tribal areas of Waziristan, “where the bad guys are hiding,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s where the al Qaeda folks are, and some other malcontents. And so what we’re doing is we’re in the process of working with the Pakistanis to help train up their counterinsurgency capability of their military, and we’re getting new agreements with them about how to deal with cross-border movements of these folks, so we’re making progress.”
Mr. Biden chose a football metaphor to describe the progress in Iraq.
“I think we’re basically on the 20-yard line, 20 yards to go. But now comes the really hard part,” he said. “The surge did work. Our military has done everything we’ve asked of them, but there needs to be a political reconciliation in Iraq.” He said that reconciliation is “still in flux … but we need a much stronger push.”
“There has to be an additional, I think, show of responsibility on the part of the Iraqi leaders that they’re able to govern,” he said, adding the Iraqi government must determine how the oil revenue will be divided.
• Eli Lake contributed to this report.