Vice President Joseph Biden said on Monday that the Taliban are not United States’ (US) enemy — a statement later backed by the White House.
“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens US interests,” Biden said in an interview with Newsweek magazine.
“If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here,” he added.
“One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban, and at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organisation that they would harbour to do damage to us and our allies,” Biden said.
The vice president said the US and the Afghan Government were engaged in a reconciliation process. “Whether it will work or not is another question. But we are in a position where if Afghanistan ceased and desisted from being a haven for people who do damage and have as a target the US and their allies, that’s good enough. We are not there yet,” Biden said.
“Of that process is our support for the Afghan-led reconciliation talks. The conditions for reconciliation for the Taliban are very clear, but reconciliation has to be a part of the long-term process in Afghanistan, if Afghanistan is going to evolve into a peaceful country,” he said.
Remarks should be seen in the context Biden was speaking in: White House
Meanwhile, the White House stood by Biden’s comments that the Taliban, per se, is not America’s enemy and stressed Biden’s remarks should be seen in the context he was speaking in.
“Not at all,” replied Press Secretary Jay Carney when asked if Biden regrets using that language that the Taliban were not per se the enemy in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s important — I know you’ve written about this — to understand what most Americans I think know, which is that we didn’t invade Afghanistan, we did not send US military personnel into Afghanistan because the Taliban were in power. They had been in power. We went into Afghanistan because al Qaeda had launched an attack against the United States from Afghanistan,” Carney explained at the daily briefing.
The spokesman noted that what Biden was “reflecting is that — and this is related to the reconciliation process that I was just discussing — is that the Taliban, per se — while we are fighting them, it is not the elimination — the elimination of the Taliban is not the issue here.”
The spokesman further said: “The objective that the President laid out when he laid out his Afghanistan strategy made clear that the number-one principle here is to defeat, dismantle — or disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat a Qaeda, as well as help stabilize Afghanistan. And that’s what we’re doing.” Carney reaffirmed Washington’s support for an Afghan-led reconciliation process as part of efforts to stabilize the country. “Part of that process is our support for the Afghan-led reconciliation talks. The conditions for reconciliation for the Taliban are very clear. But reconciliation has to be a part of the long-term process in Afghanistan if Afghanistan is going to evolve into a peaceful country.”
Pressed further on the Vice President’s statement about the Taliban as not being per se enemy, the Press Secretary said it’s regrettable to present the remark out of context.
“…because it is a simple fact that we went into Afghanistan because of the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. We are there now to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, to stabilize Afghanistan — and stabilize it in part so that al Qaeda or other terrorists who have as their aim attacks on the United States cannot establish a foothold in that country. So what is also completely clear is that Afghanistan’s future has to include within it reconciliation. And that’s why we support the Afghan government-led effort there.”