Joe Biden says troops will leave Afghanistan by 2014 'come hell or high water'
US Vice President Joe Biden has promised that all American troops will leave Afghanistan within four years, stating that "we're going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014".
The statement went much further than any other American official and appeared to contradict President Barack Obama, who said just last month that there would be a reduced number of troops by 2014 but exact force levels were undecided.
Mr Biden, who has long had a reputation for speaking carelessly, also told NBC's "Meet the Press" programme that the start of the Afghanistan withdrawal in July 2011 would involve a significant drawdown.
"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."
He presented next July as the beginning of a process that would see all US troops leave by the end of 2014.
"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."
Until now, the Obama administration has gone no further than saying that responsibility for security would be handed over to Afghan forces throughout the country by the end of 2014, as was agreed by Nato at last month's Lisbon conference.
Few if any military planners believe that all American troops will be out of Afghanistan within four years. Most anticipate that even under a best-case scenario tens of thousands are likely to remain to assist the Afghan army.
Mr Biden said that al-Qaeda's strength had "been significantly degraded" because of American actions against the network's leadership.
But, he conceded, there had been less success in countering the Afghan insurgency and creating a stable Afghan government. He admitted that the Taliban continued to make use of safe havens in Pakistan.
"We're making progress on all fronts, more in some areas than in others. Are we making sufficient progress fast enough? The answer remains to be seen," he said.