Holbrooke’s death leaves major void in Obama’s Afghan strategy

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WASHINGTON - A major void has been created in U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan with the death of his Special Envoy for these two countries, Richard C. Holbrooke.

Sixty-nine-year-old Holbrooke died at the George Washington University Hospital on Monday following post-aortic surgery complications. He was in critical condition for three days.

As President Obama’s envoy, Holbrooke persistently pressed the Hamid Karzai Government in Afghanistan, often to the breaking point in their relationship, to end the kickbacks and bribes that plagued his administration.

He also spearheaded policy related to military operations and projects to improve Afghanistan’s infrastructure.

During Holbrooke’s tenure as Special Envoy, tactical military gains gave the administration optimism that Taliban momentum, if not yet reversed, has been stalled. The Afghan army, while far from capable of taking over from the U.S.-led military coalition, is growing in number and ability.

In Pakistan, he convinced both the White House and a doubting U.S. Congress of the need for an ambitious aid and development program, funding for which was hard won to significantly dent the feeling of widespread anti-Americanism.

Pressure was also put on the Pakistani military to work towards routing insurgent groups based in the tribal badlands.

Using the force of his outsize personality and longtime connections throughout the foreign relations community, Holbrooke fought hard in Washington to obtain increased economic assistance for Pakistan. His fights in Pakistan to ensure the money was used effectively were equally tough.

On Tuesday, according to the Washington Post, Obama is scheduled to meet with his top national security advisers to finalize an assessment of his Afghanistan strategy in the year since he announced the deployment of 30,000 additional troops and an expanded counterinsurgency effort last December.

The president, along with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, has already made his views clear.

“We are in a better place now than we were a year ago,” President Obama said late last month at a NATO summit.

Progress, Clinton said, has been confirmed “by all accounts.”

On a visit to Afghanistan last week, Gates told reporters that he was “convinced that our strategy is working and that we will be able to achieve the key goals laid out by President Obama.”

The results of the strategy review - compiled by the National Security Council from inputs by Holbrooke; General David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan; and other officials - are to be announced publicly Thursday.

President Obama is expected to restate his pledge to begin drawing down U.S. combat troop levels in July, a process now scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.

According to several administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the assessment has not been released, its most positive aspects will be based on military reports from General Petraeus, who has described successful clearing operations in and around the Taliban bastions of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, and southwestern Helmand province.

General Petraeus has also cited the elimination, through killing or capture, of hundreds of Taliban commanders and local political leaders in raids by U.S. Special Operation forces.

Progress has lagged, however, on installing competent, non-corrupt Afghan officials who can convince their own population that they are worth supporting once the Taliban return, as expected, in a new offensive next spring.

Holbrooke’s death is the latest complication in an effort plagued by unreliable partners, reluctant allies and an increasingly skeptical American public.

Operating from a ramshackle suite of offices on the State Department’s ground floor, he personally, according to the Washington Post, collected his staff from throughout the government and far beyond. He gathered academics and experts from think tanks and academia, steeped in the region and its history, language and culture.

As the glue that held the enterprise together, his absence is likely to increase the already formidable challenge the Obama administration faces. (ANI)

will not be displayed