Vice President-elect Joe Biden promised U.S. support for Afghanistan's struggle against terrorism, drugs and corruption, in surprise visit Sunday to a dangerous Taliban-stronghold area of Afghanistan.
The future of the region where al-Qaida planned the Sept. 11 attacks, Biden said, "affects us all."
Underscoring the difficulties of the fight to come, hundreds of militants crossed from eastern Afghanistan and attacked paramilitary forces in the lawless frontier of neighboring Pakistan on the same day Biden visited Afghanistan's southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
Six troops and 40 insurgents were killed in the clash in Mohmand agency along the volatile border, said a military official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to talk to the media.
President-elect Barack Obama has promised to end the war in Iraq and refocus U.S. military efforts on Afghanistan, where al-Qaida-linked militants and the Taliban are making a comeback after initial defeats in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The U.S. is rushing up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and some will go to these southern provinces.
Southern Afghanistan is one of the centers of the Afghan Taliban-led insurgency, which left some 6,400 people — mostly militants — dead in 2008 alone.
The southern provinces are also the world's largest drug producing areas, and hundreds of millions of dollars from the trade finance the insurgency, as well as feed the corruption among government officials.
Biden said the U.S. will continue with its struggle against terrorism, but also fight the drug trade and help the government tackle the corruption in its midst, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for Ghulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province.
Biden met Mangal and other Afghan officials inside a coalition base on the outskirts of Helmand's provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, Ahmadi said.
"I am very interested in what becomes of this region because it affects us all," Biden said during his visit to the neighboring Kandahar province, according to a statement issued by the NATO-led force. Biden was on the second day of his trip to Afghanistan.
Biden was briefed on activities of coalition forces in the south by Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart C. de Kruif, NATO's regional commander.
They discussed "the future of southern Afghanistan, to include the addition of American troops later this year," the statement said.
Some 32,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan serve alongside 32,000 other NATO-led and coalition troops, the highest number since the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban from power began in 2001.
American, British, Canadian, and Dutch troops bore the brunt of the fighting in this region in the last two years, and NATO's call for other nations to join the fight have fallen on deaf ears.
Biden "reaffirmed his and President-elect Barack Obama's pledge to fully support troops and their efforts in the region," the NATO statement said.
America's top general in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, told Biden on Saturday that thousands of new American troops expected in the country's south will need more support items "like helicopters, engineers, military police, transportation assets," said Col. Greg Julian, a U.S. military spokesman.
Biden's two-day visit to Afghanistan follows his trip to neighboring Pakistan, where he met with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
He will conclude his visit with a trip to Iraq, the NATO statement said.
The U.S. senator from Delaware will take office as vice president on Jan. 20.