- Associated Press - Sunday, December 19, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite uneven progress in Afghanistan, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Sunday that next summer’s planned withdrawal of U.S. troops will be more than a token reduction.

He also promised that “we’re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014.”

Al Qaeda’s strength, he said, “has been significantly degraded” as U.S. forces have gone after the network’s leadership. But, he added, there has been less success in countering the Afghan insurgency, dealing with the safe havens in Pakistan and creating a stable Afghan government.

“We’re making progress on all fronts, more in some areas than in others,” Mr. Biden told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview broadcast Sunday. “Are we making sufficient progress fast enough? The answer remains to be seen.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Biden said, plans have not changed on President Obama’s pledge to begin U.S. troop reductions next summer.

“We are going to, come July, begin to draw down American forces” and begin to transfer responsibility to the Afghans, Mr. Biden said. “It will not be a token amount.”

The Obama administration repeatedly has said that July would mark the beginning of the troop withdrawals and its size would depend on military conditions at the time.

“We’re starting it in July of 2011, and we’re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014,” he said.

Mr. Biden said intelligence agencies are united in believing that al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan no longer has the capacity to pull off an operation on the level of the Sept. 11 attacks.

But allied terrorist groups elsewhere, he said, are thought to be planning “much smaller bore but yet deadly attempts to go after the United States.”

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