- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged NATO members to jointly confront al-Qaida and other extremist groups in Afghanistan where he said instability threatens all of the alliance’s members equally.

Appearing before NATO’s top decision-making body, Biden solicited ideas to reverse a losing military strategy in Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s policy to bring more European allies on board to fight the Taliban-led insurgency.

He warned that the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan was worsening, adding, “The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat from our respect not just to the United States, but to every single nation around this table.”

“It was from that remote area of the world that al-Qaida plotted 9/11 and subsequent attacks” in Europe and elsewhere.

Biden also said “we need to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together because success in one requires progress in the other.”

He spent three hours with the ambassadors of the 26 member nations of NATO, seeking their input as part of a strategic review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan that Obama promised after taking office in January. The review will be completed before an April 3-4 meeting of the NATO leaders in France.

In his speech, Biden said the Obama administration will be keen to engage NATO allies in global security discussions, marking a departure from the last eight years when Washington often was on a go-it-alone course that upset its European allies.

“President Obama and I are deeply committed to NATO. Let’s get that straight right from the start,” Biden told the North Atlantic Council — the panel of ambassadors from NATO member nations.

Biden said Americans view a terrorist attack in Europe “as an attack on the United States. That is not hyperbole … So please understand that this is not a U.S.-centrist view that only if America is attacked is there a terrorist threat.”

He said he came to hear ideas from the allies on how NATO can bring stability to Afghanistan.

“It is from that area that al-Qaida and its extremist allies are regenerating in conceiving new atrocities aimed at the people around the world from Afghanistan, Pakistan and

India to the United States, Europe and Australia,” he added.

After the NATO meeting, Biden was driven a short distance to EU headquarters.

His visit, less than a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with senior NATO and EU officials here, highlights the new priority that diplomatic outreach to allies has become for Washington.

Biden said he wanted to find out what the allies believe works well in Afghanistan, what does not and “how we can do a better job in stopping Afghanistan and Pakistan from being a haven for terrorists.”

Officials said Biden did not request extra troops. Obama has ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 38,000 already there. NATO has about 25,000 non-American troops in the country and Washington’s allies have been reluctant to increase their troops levels.

The top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, said Sunday that coalition forces were not winning the war in the south, which remains the center of the Taliban-led insurgency.

Associated Press writer Robert Wielaard contributed to this report.

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