US envoy Holbrooke 'critical'

2010-12-13 11:00

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Washington - Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, remained in critical condition on Sunday following surgery to repair a torn aorta, the State Department said.

"Today, Ambassador Holbrooke underwent an additional procedure to improve circulation following yesterday's surgery," the State Department said.

Holbrooke, aged 69, took ill on Friday while working at the State Department on the building's seventh floor, where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her office, and was hospitalised at George Washington University Hospital.

He underwent surgery to repair a torn aorta on Saturday.

He "remains in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital, where he is surrounded by his family, friends, colleagues and staff", the statement said.

His wife, Kati Marton, received calls from Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, it said.

"His family is grateful for the outpouring of support and prayers coming in from his many friends, colleagues and leaders around the world," it said.

President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Holbrooke's wife on Saturday and said he and First Lady Michelle Obama "are praying for Richard".

'Towering figure'

A hard-nosed trouble shooter, Holbrooke is perhaps best known for brokering the 1995 peace agreement that ended three years of war in Bosnia.

As a special US envoy in the current Afghan conflict, he has had the daunting task of pushing Kabul and Islamabad to work together against resurgent al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama called him "a towering figure in American foreign policy, a critical member of my Afghanistan and Pakistan team, and a tireless public servant who has won the admiration of the American people and people around the world".

His health problems come at a critical time for US policy in the region, with the administration due to conduct a review of its troop surge in Afghanistan and campaign against the Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

US defence officials have said they do not expect a change in course as a result of the review, seeing improvements in the security situation even though government corruption and Pakistani reluctance to go after insurgent safe havens remain big problems.

Hard-charging and impatient, Holbrooke has maintained a hectic travel schedule, and was in Islamabad as recently as last month.

Passed over by Obama


His health has at times been a concern. He underwent tests in New York in April for possible blocked arteries, though doctors gave him the all-clear to travel.

He has maintained a lower profile in his latest assignment working with difficult allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan than when he brokered the agreement that ended the Bosnian war.

Dubbed "the bulldozer", he alternately browbeat and cajoled the nationalist leaders of former Yugoslavia until he succeeded in forging the peace deal in November 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, following a round of Nato air strikes against Serb forces.

The Dayton agreement has held the shaky Bosnian state together despite persistent tensions among rival Muslim, Serb and Croat communities.

Holbrooke often has been spoken of as a future secretary of state, but was passed over by Obama in favour of Hillary Clinton, his former rival for the presidency.

Read more on:    richard holbrooke  |  barack obama  |  hilary clinton  |  us
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