By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 15, 2009 - On the heels of a fact-finding trip to the Middle East, Vice President-elect Joe Biden described his impression of the U.S. mission in the region and praised the American troops he encountered there. Speaking to reporters here yesterday, Biden emphasized that President-elect Barack Obama's reason for sending him to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq was not to convey policy, but to listen to military and civilian personnel.
"The express purpose was inspecting the situation on the ground, to make a determination to what the situation was, what the problems were, and to come back and report to him," Biden said, adding that the experience left him "more encouraged, rather than less encouraged."
Biden met in the Afghan capital of Kabul with Army Gen. David D. McKeirnan, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He said the situation there has deteriorated and is in need of a "significant shift."
"There needs to be more resources to attend to the situation in Afghanistan, which has deteriorated over the last six years," he said. "It has not gotten better, and so there's going to be a significant shift."
Biden said he spent time talking with leaders about how most effectively to use the influx of roughly 25,000 additional troops expected to deploy to Afghanistan over the next 12 to 18 months.
"We spent a great deal of time with the commanders in place discussing how they'd be deployed, what the objective was, what the purposes were," said Biden, adding that conditions in Afghanistan are likely to worsen before improving.
The vice president-elect said he spent considerable time in Pakistan talking with Pakistani political, military and intelligence officials, noting that the position of leadership in the capital of Karachi will "affect our ability to succeed in Afghanistan."
Biden did not address Iraq directly, but said that all the countries he visited are in need of sustainable political institutions.
"Focusing on personalities is not the key to success in any one of the three countries," he said.
During a joint news conference yesterday with Obama and Sen. Lindsay Graham, who accompanied the vice president-elect on the trip, Biden said Obama is about to become commander in chief of an exemplary U.S. military.
"We conclude, Mr. President, by saying you're about to become the commander in chief of the finest group of military personnel I think this country has ever, ever assembled -- the finest in the world," he said.
Biden's son, Beau Biden, Delaware's attorney general, is serving in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard.
Obama thanked Biden and Graham for making a trip that will help to inform his foreign-policy thinking.
"The recommendations that you're going to be delivering to me are going to be of enormous help in making sure that we do what is my No. 1 task as president-elect and as president," he said. "And that is to keep the American people safe and to make sure that when we deploy our military, that we do so with a clear sense of mission and with strong support from the American people."