ABC News' Jon Garcia, Karen Travers and Jake Tapper report:
Vice President Joe Biden told the Veterans of Foreign Wars today that as American troops end their combat mission and start their advisory mission in Iraq, the Iraqis are ready to take over and run their own military.
“The Iraqis are ready to take charge,” Biden said. “Some said the draw down would lead to increased violence. They were wrong.”
Violence in Iraq has decreased to such a degree that you’d hardly recognize it from just a few years ago, he said. “Today (the Iraq Security Forces) are 650,000 strong and already leading the way to defend and protect their country,” the Vice President said, adding that he’s made 13 trips to Iraq — four of them since President Obama put him in charge last year of overseeing the Iraq policy.
Biden’s comments come as the White House prepares for President Obama also to give a speech to mark the end of the combat mission. That speech will come some time next week, officials said.
With the change of mission at the end of August and with thousands of troops streaming out of the Iraq, Biden praised the work of the US combat soldiers.
“This is the finest most fierce group of warriors that this nation has ever created in our entire history,” he said to thunderous applause at the VFW convention in Indianapolis.
The 50,000 troops remaining after Aug 31 will carry on the new mission of “advise, assist, train and equip Iraqi forces,” he said. That will include helping conduct counter terrorism operations, provide security for the US personnel working in Iraq and help protect critical infrastructure in the country. But Biden added, “They know how to fight if they have to.”
Biden also emphasized that the political system in Iraq, though not always pretty, is working.
“Politics, not war, has broken out in Iraq,” Biden said. “Although its taking a long time to form a government … I’m absolutely convinced that they are on their way to doing that.”
He also emphasized worry about Iranian influence on the Iraqi political system turned out to be unfounded.
“Lemme tell you something, Iranian influence in Iraq is minimal. Its been greatly exaggerated,” he said. “The Iranian government spent over $100 million trying to affect the outcome of this last election to sway the Iraqi people and they utterly failed.”
As evidence, Biden pointed to the fact that Iraqi political players Nouri al-Maliki, Iyad Allawi and Massoud Barzani are all “persona non grata” in Iran.
And the draw down, he said, does not mean the end of US engagement. “We are in the process of following on President Bush’s proposal for a long term relationship,” Biden said. That includes new trade and opening consulates in major Iraqi cities.
On Afghanistan, Biden said the US is just now getting what it needs to do the job, with about 100,000 troops and 10,000 troops and trainers provided by allies.
“Folks, don’t buy into ‘we have failed in Afghanistan,’” Biden said. “General (David) Petraeus now, only now, has all the resources the strategy called for.”
Biden also praised recent legislation that provided more funding for wounded military family caregivers and made new rules for accepting diagnosis, saying troops suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will now getting the treatment they deserve.