Biden in Afghanistan to meet leaders

KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday to meet political and military leaders in the war-torn country, which will become a top foreign policy priority of the new administration.

One of the first decisions U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make is to approve the deployment of up to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to try to stem the strengthening Taliban insurgency ahead of Afghan elections due in September.

Biden is due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as U.S. General David McKiernan, commander of the 65,000-strong international troop presence in Afghanistan.

“Biden is here in Kabul to meet with various leaders including President Karzai and other ministers,” said an Afghan government official who declined to be named. “Biden’s visit will reaffirm the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan.”

Colonel Gregory Julian, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Biden would meet McKiernan.

Biden, for long the chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has made many trips to Afghanistan and diplomats say he has a detailed knowledge of the country.

After U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government for sheltering the al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks, analysts say President George W. Bush’s administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan by diverting military and financial resources to Iraq.

The Taliban then regrouped and relaunched their insurgency in mid-2005 and fighting has now spread from the militant heartlands in the south and east to the outskirts of the capital Kabul.

The first batch of U.S. reinforcements, some 3,000 troops, is due in Afghanistan this month, taking up positions just south and southwest of Kabul.

Most of the rest of the extra forces are likely to be sent to the south to break the stalemate between the Taliban and mainly British, Canadian and Dutch troops there.

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