Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that the United States will remain committed to helping the Iraqi people even after the last American combat troops leave the country this month.
Biden, speaking at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said Iraqis are ready to take charge of their country and that troubles with negotiations among Iraqi leaders was still a positive sign.
"Although it has taken a long time, I am absolutely convinced they are on their way," Biden said. "Politics and not war has broken out in Iraq."
About 50,000 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 as a training and assistance force. That is a dramatic reduction from the peak of more than 170,000 during the surge of American forces in 2007.
"Drawing down our troops does not mean we are disengaging from Iraq," Biden said. "Their mission has changed. They are now there to help Iraqis help themselves."
Biden said violence in Iraq has decreased so much that "you would not recognize the country today." Iraq's security forces — numbering about 650,000 — have assumed command of many bases, Biden said, and talks on a new government continue.
The U.S. was now in a phase of building a long-term relationship with a new Iraq, which means enhancing Iraq's security, Biden said.
President Barack Obama plans a major speech on Iraq after his return to Washington on Aug. 29 from a vacation at Martha's Vineyard.
While reducing the number of troops in Iraq, the U.S. has been increasing its forces in Afghanistan.
Combat has intensified around the country amid a rise in the number of foreign forces battling the stubborn Taliban insurgency to about 120,000, including more than 78,000 Americans. Obama has said that troops will start pulling out in July 2011, but that the size and pace of withdrawal will depend on security conditions.
Biden said the forces have made measurable progress in disrupting and dismantling the Taliban, and there has been a surge in the number of foreign diplomats in Afghanistan.
"All this talk about the inability to succeed is premature," Biden said.
Danny White, 61, of Waukee, Iowa, was among several veterans who said they were pleased with Biden's appearance and speech.
"I didn't realize, from his point of view as vice president, that he's made many trips to the war zone and is so involved in the support of men and women who are over there," said White, who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. "Afghanistan is the real hot spot now. Perhaps we can get Iraq to fight in Afghanistan, and we can bring everyone home."
The VFW, the nation's oldest major veterans organization, is meeting in Indianapolis through Thursday. About 12,000 members are expected to attend throughout the week.
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