Joe Biden's absurd Afghanistan promise

Biden says the U.S. will "totally" leave Afghanistan by 2014, but the real policy is not so simple

By Justin Elliott
December 20, 2010 7:15PM (UTC)
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FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2010 file photo, Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington. For an early idea of how the Democratic White House and emboldened House Republicans will get along next year, keep an eye on Biden and California congressman Darrell Issa. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (AP)

On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden had this to say about the American troop presence in Afghanistan:

"We're starting this process, just like we did in Iraq. 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."


While that statement generated headlines over the weekend, it's simply not an accurate reflection of U.S. policy.

First of all, if Iraq is the model, then the transition to local security control (to use the official parlance) does not mean the total withdrawal of troops from the country. When President Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq in August, it was a manufactured, virtually meaningless milestone. There are still 50,000 American troops in that country.

So what about that 2014 date in Afghanistan? A spokesman for NATO explained last month that the date was not a deadline, but a goal. And even then, "it's not the end of the mission" but rather, "an inflection point where the balance of the mission would have shifted."


And here's what Obama himself said at a news conference after the NATO summit in Lisbon last month: 

Our goal is that the Afghans have taken the lead in 2014, and in the same way that we have transitioned in Iraq, we will have successfully transitioned so that we are still providing a training and support function.

There may still be extensive cooperation with the Afghan armed services to consolidate the security environment in that area.  ...

The other thing that I’m pretty confident we will still be doing after 2014 is maintaining a counterterrorism capability until we have confidence that al Qaeda is no longer operative and is no longer a threat to the American homeland and to American allies and personnel around the world. And so it’s going to be important for us to continue to have platforms to be able to execute those counterterrorism operations.

So: 2014 is a "goal," and the goal is some sort of undefined transition -- hardly the same thing as Biden's promise to "be totally out of there come, hell or high water." The vice president is either confused or he's being disingenuous.

Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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