Meet the Press   |  December 19, 2010

Biden on Afghanistan: U.S. leaving in 2014 ‘come hell or high water’

In an exclusive interview on “Meet the Press,” the vice president tells NBC’s David Gregory that it “remains to be seen” if the U.S. is making sufficient progress fast enough in the war.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about Afghanistan . The president's review released this week, you've been described in The New York Times as " Obama 's in-house pessimist on Afghanistan ." Are we winning or losing in Afghanistan ?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Let me separate this out, remind everybody what our goal is. Our overarching goal and our rationale for being there is to defeat and -- to dismantle, ultimately defeat al-Qaeda , residing -- central al-Qaeda residing in the Fatah , the western regions of the mountains of, of Pakistan . Secondly, to make sure that terrorists do not, in fact, bring down the Pakistani government , which is a nuclear power. Toward that end, we think it's important that there be stability in Afghanistan so that al-Qaeda cannot re-establish it as a base from which to attack the United States of America. With regard to our efforts to degrade al-Qaeda , we're making great progress. The so-called C.T. , that is counterterrorism, the use of special forces and the like to go after individuals who make up the leadership of al-Qaeda and of the Taliban . On the issue of counterinsurgency, that is where we clear, hold and build and transfer, we're making progress not as rapidly as we are on the other front. President's been frank to say that in his release, pointing out that we need two things that we're working on very hard and we're making

some progress: one, Pakistan and safe havens; and two, governance in Afghanistan .

MR. GREGORY: All of this is so complicated.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: It is.

MR. GREGORY: After 10 years, Mr. Vice President, can't you just say straight whether we're winning of losing?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well...

MR. GREGORY: Don't the American people deserve to know something about where we stand?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, no -- they -- I, I -- the one thing I've never been accused of is not being straight. They are -- we are making progress.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah...

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Are we making sufficient progress fast enough? The answer remains to be seen. Here's what we said. We said we were going to -- we -- after seven years of neglect of an Afghan policy when we came to office, we had to sit down. I went off to Afghanistan at the president's request, came back with a recommendation, and said we have to clarify our objectives and then decide what forces we need in order to sustain the possibility of making sure we accomplish those objectives. We've done that. We said we'd sit down in December and make -- and look at it and review the progress we're making. We were honest with the American people , we're making progress in all fronts, more in some areas than in others. We are going to, come July, begin to draw down American forces and transfer responsibility to the...

MR. GREGORY: Will that be a token amount of soldiers? Will it be a couple of thousand troops and no more?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: No. Well, well -- it, it will not be a token amount, but the degree to which we draw down -- if I can make an analogy to Iran -- I mean, excuse me, to, to Iraq , which I've been put in charge of.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: What happened there? We signed, three years ago, an agreement with the Iraqis saying that what we're going to do is, two summers ago we're going to draw all combat troops out of the cities, populated areas. Then we said, our administration, we're going to draw 100,000 troops out the next summer. And we're going to be totally out. In the meantime, we're going to help build a government, we're going to transfer responsibility, and we're going to be gone. That's exactly what we did at the recent Lisbon conference, the NATO conference, where we said, "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 ."

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about something that's on a lot of Americans' minds. As we talk about Afghanistan , number one goal is preventing another terror state in Afghanistan from, from where terrorist attacks can be launched. We know what happened with the Christmas Day bomber during the holidays last year. What is the capacity of al-Qaeda or affiliated organizations to pull off a large scale terror attack against this country?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, you never say never, OK? But we are, our intelligence community, is united in the view that the ability of central al-Qaeda , that is Osama bin Laden and company in the Af-Pak area, in those mountains, has been significantly degraded, and we don't believe they have the capacity from there to pull of a, a 9/11 type operation. But what has also happened, as you've noticed, you've seen in the Arabian peninsula , you've seen in other parts of the world where there are al-Qaeda , al-Qaeda -related affiliates not under the direct control of, of Osama , but yet engaged with him. They are planning much smaller-bore but yet deadly attempts to go after the United States of America. We saw that in the underpants bomber last Christmas , we saw that in the Times Square effort. So there are going to be continued efforts to be able to, coming, quite frankly, more likely out of places other than the Fatah -- excuse me, other than Pakistan , where bin Laden is. But we have significantly degraded and knocked off a lot of the main planners and organizers and trainers. Does that mean we've succeeded? No. Does that mean we're in much better shape than we were a year ago and two and three? Yes.