Jul 24, 2009
Biden: More 'Sacrifice' In Afghanistan
Biden Warns Of More 'Sacrifice' In Afghanistan
New York Times
July 24, 2009
By Alan Cowell
LONDON — Entering a debate that has stirred political tumult in Britain, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in an interview broadcast Thursday that more coalition troops would die in Afghanistan but that the war was “worth the effort.”
Speaking during a tour of Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Biden told the BBC that the lawless region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was “a place that, if it doesn’t get straightened out, will continue to wreak havoc on Europe and the United States.”
His remarks have a particular resonance in Britain at a time when the American-led coalition has recorded some of its worst casualties since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Britain has some 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan — the second biggest contingent after the United States — and so far this month alone has lost 19 soldiers. That brings Britain’s total since 2001 to 188, higher than its death toll in the Iraq war. The latest fatalities came Wednesday, when bombs killed two United States service members and one Briton in southern Afghanistan.
Before those deaths, July had already become the deadliest month for American service members in the country since the 2001 invasion.
With the newest fatalities, more than 30 Americans have died in the first three weeks of July, surpassing the highest previous monthly toll of 28, reached in June 2008.
The deaths coincide with a major American offensive, supported by British and other troops, in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, in advance of presidential elections next month.
While some British newspaper columnists have questioned the reasons for fighting the war, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is locked in a dispute with the main opposition leader, David Cameron, over the government’s record on providing the right equipment — particularly helicopters — to shield British soldiers from the increasingly deadly roadside bombs planted by the Taliban.
In the interview, Mr. Biden said that in terms of the national interests of the United States, Britain and other European countries, the war “is worth the effort we are making and the sacrifice that is being felt.”
“And more will come,” he said, referring to the current phase of hostilities as “the fighting season.” He did not comment specifically on the debate over British equipment.
He said the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region was “the place from which the attacks of 9/11 and all those attacks in Europe that came from Al Qaeda have flowed, from that place between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
He called British soldiers “among the best trained and bravest warriors in the world.”
The debate over British troops’ access to helicopters sharpened Wednesday when a Foreign Office minister, Lord Malloch Brown, told a newspaper interviewer that “we definitely don’t have enough helicopters.”
But he withdrew the comment, apparently under pressure from the prime minister, who has insisted that access to more helicopters would not have saved British lives in the latest wave of fatalities. Mr. Brown’s critics argue that lives would be saved if troops were transported by helicopter rather than by land vehicles, in which they are more vulnerable to attacks.
“In the operations we are doing at the moment, it is completely wrong to say that the loss of lives has been caused by the absence of helicopters,” Mr. Brown said Wednesday. “For the operations we are doing at the moment, we have the helicopters we need.”