Biden says no plans to nation-build in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday the United States was not in Afghanistan to “nation-build” but for the sole purpose of defeating al Qaeda in the border areas with Pakistan.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad July 4, 2010. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani/Files

Under growing pressure over the unpopular and costly nine-year war, the Obama administration is grappling with how to measure success in Afghanistan for a review due in December of how President Barack Obama’s new strategy is working.

Laying out the reasoning behind its Afghanistan policy, Biden said it was not to create a U.S.-style democracy but to eliminate al Qaeda, which is blamed for the 2001 attacks against the United States.

“We are in Afghanistan for one express purpose ... the al Qaeda that exists in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show.

“We are not there to nation-build. We are not out there deciding we are going to turn this into a Jeffersonian democracy and build that country. We made it clear, we are not there for 10 years,” he said.

Obama announced in December an additional 30,000 troops to fight the war and said he also intended to start pulling out U.S. troops from Afghanistan from July 2011 as long as the right conditions existed.

Laying down a specific timeline has irked some allies. Critics say it has emboldened the Taliban to wait out a U.S. departure.

Obama was set to meet his national security team later on Thursday, a regular monthly session to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan, the White House said.

The meeting comes days after the online whistle-blower web site, WikiLeaks, released more than 75,000 secret military records on the war in Afghanistan.

Biden said the leaked material, which included material dated from 2004 to the end of 2009, pre-dated the announcement of the new Obama strategy in Afghanistan last December.

There is growing impatience among Americans over the war. Lawmakers are questioning whether the conflict is worth the cost, especially during a deep recession.

U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke said on Wednesday he believed the mission would be successful but also sought to lower expectations on what could be achieved.

He said the Bush administration’s “mission statement” for Afghanistan had been much more ambitious than the goal set by the Obama White House.

“It was creating a modern state, a modern democracy in Afghanistan with limited resources,” Holbrooke said of President George W. Bush’s goals.

“(Obama) narrowed the mission to a reasonable, achievable goal and increased the resources,” he said.

(Additional reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by David Storey)

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