British diplomat quits Afghanistan post

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Britain's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who has criticized elements of the U.S. war strategy, has resigned and the new government of Prime Minister David Cameron is reviewing whether to fill the job, British officials said Monday.

Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British counterpart of Obama administration special representative Richard C. Holbrooke, had held the position since early 2009, after serving nearly two years as ambassador to Afghanistan.

He had pushed for a political solution in Afghanistan and for higher priority to be given to talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, while expressing skepticism that increased military force could prevail.

Cowper-Coles drew attention in 2008 when he was quoted in a leaked French diplomatic cable as criticizing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Bush administration and advising his government to tell the United States that "we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one."

At an international conference on Afghanistan held in London in January, Britain pressed Karzai to speed up efforts to hold reconciliation talks with the insurgents, a direction the Obama administration has grown more comfortable with even as it has expanded the U.S. military force on the ground.

Since then, Britain's leadership has changed with the rise of a coalition government led by Cameron's Conservative Party, although no change in policy has been announced. A follow-up Afghanistan conference is scheduled to be held next month in Kabul. Britain has the second-largest foreign force in Afghanistan, with about 9,000 troops.

British officials denied reports that Cowper-Coles had been asked to step down, and one official suggested that he was simply tired of the region after three years and would be given another diplomatic assignment. The position of special representative was said to be under review, with another diplomat appointed to hold it in an acting capacity.

Meanwhile, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is quoted in an upcoming profile in Rolling Stone magazine as saying that Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, had "betrayed" him by sending a diplomatic cable to Washington last fall dismissing Karzai as "not an adequate strategic partner." The cable came as McChrystal was recommending that President Obama increase U.S. forces and ties with the Afghan government.

McChrystal reportedly said in recent interviews with Rolling Stone that Eikenberry was "cover[ing] his flank for the history books" so he could say, "I told you so," if the strategy failed.

In the article, to appear on newsstands Friday, McChrystal and his staff also reportedly express disdain for Holbrooke. The article describes the general looking at his BlackBerry and groaning, "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke," before putting the phone away without reading it.

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