July 18, 2010— -- "As few as a couple thousand troops" could be returning home from America's longest war at the July 2011 target for a "transition" in Afghanistan, Vice President Joe Biden told "This Week" in an exclusive interview.
Biden previously was quoted in Jonathan Alter's new book, "The Promise," as saying, "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it."
But he clarified to ABC News' Jake Tapper: "If you read three or four paragraphs above that, Jonathan was making a very valid point. He was saying a lot in the military think they outmaneuvered the president to render the July date meaningless. And I was saying that's simply not true.
"The military signed on," Biden said. "[Afghanistan commander Gen. David] Petraeus signed on. Everybody signed on to not a deadline, but a transition, a beginning of a transition."
So what did Biden mean when he said "a whole lot of people" would be "moving out" of Afghanistan? Tapper asked.
"What I was responding to was the idea that the president had been outmaneuvered," Biden said. "I was saying make it clear. And so it wasn't so much numbers [that] I meant. It could be as few as a couple thousand troops. It could be more. But there will be a transition."
The vice president also examined the broader picture of the war in Afghanistan.
Are we losing the war?
"It's too early to make a judgment," Biden said."We still believe that the policy that the military signed onto, put together initially, signed onto, is, in fact, going to work."
What does he mean by "work"?
"We are making considerable progress against al Qaeda, which is our primary target," Biden said. "We're taking out significant numbers of the leadership in al Qaeda. And we are, in the process, which is painfully slow and difficult, of training up Afghani forces in order to put them in a position they can deal with their own insurgents.
"There is, for the first time now, a real attempt and a policy of trying to figure out how to reconcile those in the Taliban who are doing it for the pay, who are not the Mullah Omars of the world, into the government of Afghanistan," Biden said.
But he added a big caveat.
"All of this is just beginning," he said. "And we knew it was going to be a tough slog. But I think it's much too premature to make a judgment [of how the U.S. is faring] until the military said we should look at it, which is in December."
"It's too early to make a judgment," Biden repeated. "We don't even have all the troops of the so-called surge in place yet. That won't happen until August."