US envoy Richard Holbrooke critical after surgery in Washington

RICHARD Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is critically ill following surgery and has been joined by family members at a Washington hospital.

“This morning, doctors completed surgery to repair a tear in his aorta. He is in critical condition and has been joined by his family” at George Washington University Hospital, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

Mr Holbrooke, 69, took ill yesterday while working at the State Department on the building’s seventh floor, where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her office.

The hard-nosed trouble-shooter 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, Mr Holbrooke has had the daunting task of pushing Kabul and Islamabad to work together against resurgent al-Qa’ida and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr Holbrooke’s health has at times been a concern, and the veteran US diplomat underwent tests in New York in April for possible blocked arteries, though doctors gave him the all-clear to travel.

He maintains a hectic travel schedule, and was in Islamabad as recently as last month.

Mr Holbrooke’s hospitalisation comes as the White House conducts a review of war strategy in Afghanistan, one year after Barack Obama announced a deployment of an additional 30,000 US troops in a bid to turn around the war.

A senior defence official has said the review will likely credit a troop surge with improving security in Afghanistan, but warn that the insurgency is far from defeated.

Dubbed “the bulldozer” for his impatient, hard-charging style, Mr Holbrooke alternately browbeat and cajoled the nationalist leaders of former Yugoslavia until he succeeded in forging a 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.

At the time Mr Holbrooke was an assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs under president Bill Clinton.

But the accord, and the outspoken public role Mr Holbrooke played in securing it, brought him international celebrity.

He told the story of the roller-coaster negotiations in a well-received book, “To End a War,” in which he argued for a robust US foreign policy that includes a readiness for military action to prevent possible genocide.

But while considered a political heavyweight with a first-class intellect, Mr Holbrooke’s intense, blunt personality made him few friends at the State Department.

He reportedly clashed at times with Ms Clinton’s inner circle, including then secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

He has long been considered a potential future secretary of state and probably would have been named to the post if Democrat Al Gore had won the presidency in 2000.

When Democrat John Kerry ran for president in 2004, he was again the front-runner for the State Department job. But he was passed over by Mr Obama, who gave the prestigious assignment to his former rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.

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