Obama to pick Crocker as next Afghan envoy

April 28, 2011 - 0:0

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama is to name seasoned diplomat Ryan Crocker as the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, several people said Tuesday, part of a far-reaching turnover of the nation’s top leadership of the Afghan war as Obama prepares to begin bringing forces home this summer.

The move would reunite Crocker with General David Petraeus in a rerun of the diplomatic and military “dream team’’ credited with rescuing the flagging American mission in Iraq. In the coming months, Obama will have to name successors to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen, other senior military leaders, and probably Petraeus himself.
Crocker emerged this month as the leading candidate to replace Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a former Army general whose two-year tenure was marred by cool relationships with major players in the Afghan war, including the White House, US military leaders, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. People in the administration and others said Crocker’s is the only name currently under consideration, but the White House has not made a final decision.
All of the people spoke on condition of anonymity because the nomination is not final and Eikenberry is still in his job. His departure has not been announced, and he may remain in Kabul for months while Crocker or another successor gets the necessary Senate confirmation, they said.
Officials said the White House is weighing several factors, including Crocker’s role in the larger cast change in Afghanistan policy this summer and fall. Those personnel changes are unrelated to the progress of the war, now in its 10th year, but come just as Obama needs to demonstrate enough success to follow through with his pledge to begin withdrawing US forces in July.
The administration has yet to inform legislators of its choice, a sign that the nomination might not be imminent, according to a congressional aide.
The Pentagon calls 2011 the make-or-break year for turning around the war and laying the path for a gradual U.S. exit by 2015. Obstacles include uncertain leadership and weak government of Karzai, the question of whether the Taliban can be integrated into Afghan political life, and the continued safe harbor Pakistan provides for militants attacking US and NATO forces over the border in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Kandahar provincial governor’s office yesterday said troops have caught 71 of the more than 480 Taliban prisoners who escaped through an underground tunnel Monday and killed two who tried to resist. Authorities say they have biometric data on each prisoner, which aids in their identification.