- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Tuesday that 70 percent of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are essentially mercenaries who possibly could be negotiated with instead of fought, and said the United States likely will try this approach.

Mr. Biden, in Belgium to discuss Afghanistan with NATO officials in advance of next month’s summit, said that he did not know what kind of concessions Taliban members might be willing to make, and said that the Afghan government would have to initiate and approve of any such talks.

“But I do think it is worth engaging and determining whether or not there are those who are willing to participate in a secure and stable Afghan state,” Mr. Biden said.

President Obama on Friday left open the door to negotiating with elements of the Taliban as part of a counterinsurgency strategy first conceived and carried out in Iraq by Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of military forces in Iraq who now oversees military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan as commander of CentCom.

In response to a question about how many of the Taliban might be considered “moderate” and therefore open to reconciliation, Mr. Biden ticked off some percentages.

“Five percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated. Another 25 percent or so are not quite sure, in my view, [of] the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency,” Mr. Biden said during a press conference.

“And roughly 70 percent are involved because of the money, because of them being … paid,” he said.

The U.S. military action in Afghanistan, late in 2001, unseated the Taliban from power after President Bush said they had given Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda the safe haven they needed to plot and carry out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Taliban are fundamentalist Muslims who espouse an extreme and strict interpretation of the Koran that includes a medieval system of justice and is highly repressive of women’s rights.

Mr. Biden’s comments were more expansive, more forward-leaning toward the idea of engagement and far more detailed than the president’s comment.

“With regard to the experience, it is different, but not wholly different,” Mr. Biden said of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We engaged in Iraq the most extreme elements of the Sunni resistance in Anbar Province… . The same principle pertains here. Whether or not it will bear as much fruit remains to be seen. There’s only one way, and that is to engage,” he said.

The vice president said that his talks with NATO allies were “essentially the beginning” of consultations with them over the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he emphasized have to be thought of jointly.

The Obama administration currently is undergoing a review of their “Af-Pak” strategy in a manner that National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said recently is “unprecedented.”

Mr. Biden said that while he knows the American and European peoples are”tired of war,” he also said that “none of us can deny that the new threats of the 21st century must be dealt with.”

He pointed out that the 9/11 attacks originated in the area along the Afghan-Pakistani border and that every major terrorist attack in Europe since then, along with the recent horror in Mumbai, also were spawned there.

“We know that it was from this same area that al Qaeda and its extremist allies are regenerating and conceiving new atrocities to visit upon us,” he said.

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