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Biden Warns of Failure in Afghanistan

Monday, February 25, 2008

NEW YORK —  Sen. Joseph Biden on Monday called for more U.S. aid for Afghanistan and deeper NATO involvement there, saying failure could also have dire consequences for neighboring Pakistan.

NATO must be "fully in the fight" in Afghanistan _ nothing less than the future of the alliance is at stake, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told a luncheon crowd at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Many of our NATO allies thought they were signing up for a peacekeeping mission, not counter-insurgency operations," said Biden, D-Del. "Many are fighting with incredible bravery in the south. But the so-called "national caveats" are making a mockery of NATO _ and the notion of a unified mission."

Each nation that contributes troops operates under so-called national caveats that limit what its troops can do.

Nearly seven years after a U.S.-led invasion defeated the Taliban regime, NATO has about 42,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, 14,000 of whom are American.

Biden recently traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and he said the stakes are as high as they've ever been for the future of those nations.

"Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for al-Qaida. But just as important, if Afghanistan fails, Pakistan could follow, because extremists will set their sights on the bigger prize to the east," he said.

With Pakistan's recent parliamentary elections swept by opposition candidates, President Pervez Musharraf seemed willing to leave office peaceably, Biden said.

"I think he will go gently into the good night," Biden said.

Musharraf's spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, told Dawn News television in Pakistan on Monday that the Pakistani leader would not respond to any suggestion by a U.S. senator that he should withdraw from the presidency quietly and gracefully.

Some Pakistani leaders and many media commentators also have called for Musharraf, a key U.S. ally against terrorism, to resign.

The parties of assassinated Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and former premier Nawaz Sharif won a majority of the seats in the new parliament and are expected to form a coalition government. But they fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to impeach Musharraf.

Biden urged a huge boost in U.S. spending on reconstructing Afghanistan, putting a single person in charge of reconstruction and focusing on arresting drug kingpins there.

"We have spent on Afghanistan's reconstruction in six years what we spend every three weeks on military operations in Iraq," he said. "How do you spell hope in Dari and Pashtu? A-S-P-H-A-L-T."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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