Biden says, Pullout of Afghanistan may start small

By Richard Wolf | USA TODAY

Vice President Biden said Sunday that progress in Afghanistan has been “a tough slog,” but he said U.S. troops will begin leaving in July 2011.

Biden said he was not insulted by disparaging remarks made about him by Gen. Stanley McChrystal

“It could be as few as a couple thousand troops. It could be more. But there will be a transition,” Biden said. The interview was taped late last week but broadcast Sunday.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Biden said U.S. and NATO forces will be able to turn over some of the 34 military districts in Afghanistan to locally trained forces as planned, but he acknowledged the training of Afghan troops hasn’t gone smoothly.

“We are in the process, which is painfully slow and difficult, of training up Afghani forces in order to put them in a position they can deal with their own insurgents,” he said. “There is, for the first time now, a real attempt and a policy of trying to figure out how to reconcile those in the Taliban who are doing it for the pay, who are not the Mullah Omars of the world, into the government of Afghanistan.”

Biden said he was not insulted by disparaging remarks made about him by Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone magazine, adding he believed they were made over policy differences not personalities.

President Obama replaced McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan because of those remarks and other comments made by McChrystal’s aides. McChrystal, who is retiring from the Army, was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus.

The vice president was more upbeat about Iraq, which he visited this month. He said the planned drawdown to 50,000 U.S. servicemembers by the end of August is on track.

“There is no one in the military who thinks there’s any reason we can’t do that,” Biden said.

On other subjects, Biden:

  • Said that businesses should be able to boost hiring now that the economic crisis in Europe is stabilizing and that Obama will sign a bill tightening Wall Street regulations on Wednesday.
  • “The very uncertainty they had has now been settled by the passage of the reforms. They didn’t know which way they were going to go. They didn’t know how much was going to happen,” Biden said. “So I think there is increased certainty now that the major reform they were worried about is law.”
  • Called the anti-tax “Tea Party” movement “very conservative” but not racist.

“Some of the Tea Party folks have expressed racist views,” he said. “But I don’t believe, the president doesn’t believe, that the Tea Party is a racist organization. … Very conservative. Very different views on government and a whole lot of things. But it is not a racist organization.”