WASHINGTON -- Despite uneven progress in Afghanistan, Vice President Joe Biden said next summer's planned withdrawal would be more than a token reduction and that the U.S. would be out of the country by 2014 "come hell or high water."
Biden's prediction appeared to go further than statements by his boss, President Barack Obama, who just last month said there would be a reduced U.S. footprint in Afghanistan by 2014 but that the number of troops that would remain was still in question.
Obama has discussed maintaining a counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan after 2014. As recently as Dec. 16, he said the U.S. and its NATO allies would have an enduring presence there after 2014, although the details of that were unclear.
The Obama administration has said repeatedly that July would mark the beginning of the troop withdrawals and that their size would depend on military conditions.
"We're starting it in July of 2011, and we're going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014," Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview broadcast Sunday.
What will actually happen in 2014 will be influenced by many factors, including who will win the White House in 2012. So pledges in 2010 about withdrawal may be premature.
Al-Qaida's strength, Biden said, "has been significantly degraded" as U.S. forces have gone after the network's leadership. But, he added, there has been less success in countering the Afghan insurgency, dealing with the safe havens in Pakistan and creating a stable Afghan government.
"We're making progress on all fronts, more in some areas than in others," Biden said. "Are we making sufficient progress fast enough? The answer remains to be seen."
Nevertheless, Biden said plans have not changed on Obama's pledge to begin U.S. troop reductions next summer.
"We are going to, come July, begin to draw down American forces" and begin to transfer responsibility to the Afghans, he said. "It will not be a token amount."
Biden said intelligence agencies are united in believing that al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan no longer has the capacity to pull off an operation on the level of the Sept. 11 attacks. But allied terrorist groups elsewhere, he said, are thought to be planning "much smaller-bore but yet deadly attempts to go after the United States."