WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2011 -- Vice President Joe Biden today spoke with Afghan national and local leaders as he continued what White House officials described as a visit to assess progress and reinforce the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.
Biden arrived in Afghanistan yesterday on an unannounced visit. Today, he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and toured a military training site near Kabul with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, senior commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Speaking to the press after lunching together and before a longer one-on-one meeting, Biden and Karzai both said the visit had given them an opportunity for "good conversation."
After the meeting, Biden echoed the administration's recent Afghanistan review, saying "we have arrested Taliban momentum here in some very important areas, but these gains, we know, are fragile and reversible."
Sustaining those gains will require strong Afghan security forces eventually taking the lead and for Pakistan to make more of an effort to root out terrorist enclaves along the border, the vice president said.
"There are many hard days that lie ahead," he said.
The administration's plan to begin drawing down U.S. troops in July of 2011, and the U.S.-Afghanistan-NATO agreement for Afghan forces to assume the security lead in 2014, offer a "viable path going forward," Biden said.
As U.S. and coalition forces move into the security transition phase, Biden said, "It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build. As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people, and they are fully capable of it."
The United States will continue to assist the Afghan government at its request, he said.
Biden paid tribute to Karzai's leadership and "the extraordinary personal courage" he showed in leading the country since 2002.
Earlier in the day, the vice president visited the Kabul Military Training Center, where U.S. and coalition troops train Afghan soldiers in a variety of basic and officer training.
In the afternoon, Biden traveled to Forward Operating Base Airborne in Wardak province, described in pool reports as "a sprawling fortress, surrounded by snow-capped mountains."
Accompanied by Petraeus, Biden met with Wardak officials and coalition forces to discuss the success of coalition and Afghan operations to eliminate the insurgent threat in the region.
Biden spoke to Wardak governor Halim Fidai as the meeting began.
"Governor, how are you'" Biden said, shaking hands. "I've heard really good things about you."
After the meeting, the vice president shook hands with several servicemembers working at the forward operating base and handed out some vice presidential coins. He asked each troop where he or she was from and thanked them for their service.
Biden then flew by helicopter to Bagram Airfield.