WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - Vice President Joe Biden warned Friday that the United States faces a tough - and dangerous - task as it shifts the military from Iraq to Afghanistan.
"The road remains incredibly, incredibly perilous" in both countries, President Barack Obama's No. 2 told House Democrats just before embarking on the first foreign trip by a top Obama administration official.
Obama made an Iraq drawdown and an Afghanistan buildup a foreign policy cornerstone of his presidential campaign, and the administration is set to move forward toward both goals in coming weeks.
The president dispatched Biden to a gathering of House Democrats at a retreat southeast of Washington to deliver an assessment of international challenges ahead. Biden's somber take on foreign policy - in contrast to Obama's feisty campaign-style pep talk on the economy the night before - appeared intended to lower expectations for an immediate troop withdrawal in Iraq and a quick turnaround in Afghanistan.
"The progress is real in Iraq," Biden said before invoking a bit of football lingo. "We're on the 20-yard line moving in but there's an awful lot to be done."
He said the administration must be "very deeply involved" not just in drawing down troops in a careful manner but also in helping Iraqis reach true political reconciliation. "We're going to have to get in there and be much more aggressive in forcing them to deal with these issues," he said.
In Afghanistan, Biden said, "The economic and security and social conditions there are daunting" and the United States has "geography, demography and history working against us." Returning to football analogies, he said the United States has 80 yards in that country to bring stability and eliminate terrorist strongholds.
"We have a long, long way to go there," Biden said.
But he also says the deteriorating situation and Taliban resurgence is a global problem, and there is no solution in Afghanistan without Pakistan.
"We've got to make Afghanistan the world's responsibility, not just the United States' responsibility," he said, eliciting cheers.
The U.S. has some 33,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, and Obama is expected to send another 30,000 this year as his administration shifts its focus from the war in Iraq to the Afghan conflict.
Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, spoke to the Democratic rank and file just before leaving for a security conference in Munich, Germany. He also was slated to hold bilateral meetings with Russia, Georgia, Germany, France and Britain.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)