U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday it was too soon to judge if a surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan was winning the war and insisted he bore no ill will toward General Stanley McChrystal.
President Barack Obama fired McChrystal last month after a magazine interview in which members of a team led by the top U.S. general in Afghanistan belittled Biden and called Obama's national security adviser a clown.
I wasn't the clown. I was the guy who, in fact, was their problem, they thought. I'm not their problem, Biden told ABC News' This Week program.
Also in the interview, Biden described as firm the July 2011 date Obama set to begin pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.
Other U.S. officials in recent weeks have said any drawdown would be based on security conditions on the ground and have emphasized the date was aimed at sending a message to Kabul about the urgency of handing over security responsibility.
It could be as few as a couple thousand troops. It could be more. But there will be a transition, Biden told ABC.
McChrystal's interview with Rolling Stone magazine exposed divisions between the White House and the military on how to conduct the Afghan war.
A member of his team joked about the vice president. Biden? the aide was quoted as saying. Did you say: 'Bite me?' Another aide called national security adviser Jim Jones a clown who was stuck in 1985.
I didn't take it personally at all. I really, honest to God, didn't. Compared to what happens in politics, this is -- that was a piece of cake, Biden said.
But Biden said the situation left McChrystal in an untenable position and that six four-star generals had advised the vice president that he must go.
I met with McChrystal. The president met with McChrystal. He was -- he was really apologetic. He knew they had gone way beyond. But we also knew that if a sergeant did that, if a lieutenant did that -- I mean no one could stay, Biden said.
Obama replaced McChrystal by putting General David Petraeus in charge of the war in Afghanistan.
U.S. troops are encountering stiff resistance and mounting casualties from a resurgent Taliban, despite a six-month buildup in U.S. forces. But Biden said it was too early to say if the strategy was working or not.
We knew it was going to be a tough slog. But I think it's much too premature to make a judgment until the military said we should look at it, which is in December, Biden said, adding that it would take until August to complete the troop surge.
In his book, The Promise, about Obama's first year, writer Jonathan Alter describes a conversation with Biden in which the vice president said, In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it.
Biden confirmed the account in the ABC interview.
There's going to be a drawdown of forces as we transition, the vice president said.
As U.S. casualties rise, opinion polls suggest that doubts among Americans about the war are deepening.
The number of Americans who view the war in Afghanistan as worth fighting declined to 43 percent from 52 percent in December, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll.
In one example of the growing criticism of the Afghanistan policy, Richard Haass, a former aide to U.S. President George W. Bush, urged a major change of course in an article in Newsweek magazine this weekend.
Haass, who was named U.S. coordinator for the future of Afghanistan just after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, said the counterinsurgency strategy that drove the troop increase is clearly not working.
After nearly nine years of war ... continued or increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan isn't likely to yield lasting improvements that would be commensurate in any way with the investment of American blood and treasure, Haass wrote. It is time to scale down our ambitions there and both reduce and redirect what we do.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend a conference this week in Kabul that U.S. officials hope will clarify the long-term goals of the Afghan war.
She is to join dozens of other foreign ministers on Monday and Tuesday when Afghan President Hamid Karzai will detail plans to boost governance, security and economic opportunity in the face of relentless attacks by Taliban insurgents.
Some liberal Democrats are demanding a clearer exit plan. Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized the 2011 target date as a dangerous sign that the United States is not committed to victory in the war.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jackie Frank)