West "not winning" in Afghanistan: Biden

BRUSSELS Tue Mar 10, 2009 1:26pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is welcomed by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (R) at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, March 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden appealed to NATO allies on Tuesday to help the United States tackle worsening security in Afghanistan, saying the alliance was struggling to deal with a threat to the West as a whole.

"The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat not just to the United States but to every single nation round this table," Biden told representatives of the 26-country military pact during a visit to Brussels.

"We are not now winning the war, but the war is far from lost," he told a news conference after three hours of talks.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on NATO to boost efforts before August 20 Afghan elections. "It is important that this alliance delivers in the short term," he told the same briefing.

Western powers are concerned not only by the Taliban's advances in Afghanistan but also by its influence in Pakistan, where Islamic militants have established bases in tribal border regions and have disrupted NATO's supply convoys to Afghanistan while securing concessions from the Pakistani government.

Biden said U.S. President Barack Obama wanted to consult with allies on a strategy review due to be completed this month and Washington would "expect everyone to keep whatever commitments were made in arriving at that joint strategy."

At lunch with Biden, top EU officials discussed ways to reinforce commitments and to improve the coordination and efficiency of assistance, including the vital priority of training of the Afghan police and army, an EU source said.

The European Union runs a program for training the Afghan police but has failed so far to meet a promise made last year to double the number of trainers.

BIDEN SAYS COORDINATION VITAL

The sides also discussed plans for an international conference on Afghanistan proposed by the United States for March 31 that would include regional players such as Pakistan and Iran as part of a broader approach to containing militancy.

An EU official said it was hoped the conference, expected to be held in the Netherlands, would endorse the strategy review.

Biden said it was vital to coordinate. "When we consult ... we get the type of consensus that our political leadership needs ... Absent that kind of cohesion, it will be incredibly more difficult to meet the common threats we are going to face."

U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in Kabul in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. targets planned by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda from bases in Afghanistan. More than seven years on, violence has worsened, despite the presence of some 70,000 foreign troops, including 38,000 Americans.

Obama has approved deployment of 17,000 more soldiers and has stressed the need for non-military assistance from countries that did not feel able to provide more troops.

"We are aware obviously that not every country is able to contribute more troops," a senior U.S. administration official said, adding that Biden had been encouraged by the response.

"People took the opportunity to be direct about their concerns," he said. "We also heard some very encouraging things about the potential for commitments of assistance and support. There was more than one representative who raised that."

The official said the new administration was trying to stress in two visits to Europe by Biden in a month that it took consultation with allies seriously and recognized the need to "reset" ties with Europe, just as it has announced with Russia.

"I think that skepticism was understandable about the United States being committed to consultation and diplomacy given the last eight years and we are overcoming that skepticism by demonstrating we are here and listening," he said.

An EU ambassador who attended one of the meetings with Biden described his approach as "impressive."

The Bush administration raised hackles in Europe by pursuing its own agenda in its "war on terror" while complaining about a reluctance of allies to send more troops, and debates on Afghanistan often became noisy slanging matches over strategy.

(Additional reporting by Mark John, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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