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Clinton to announce new 'AfPak' envoy
Disputes about the scope of the job delayed the selection process, as several candidates questioned the degree of authority they would have and wondered whether they would come under the same White House fire as Holbrooke had.
Two potential candidates - Nicholas Burns, who served in the same job as Grossman in the second Bush administration, and Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration- were thought to be too closely identified with U.S.-India relations to serve as viable interlocutors with Pakistan.
Others on Hillary Clinton's list included Frank Wisner, the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, and John Podesta, Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff. It was unclear whether either of them was actually offered - or refused - the post.
Officials said that it would largely be up to Grossman to define the job's parameters. Frank Ruggiero, Holbrooke's deputy and acting representative since his death, is expected to stay on, perhaps focusing this year on reconciliation talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, together with regional coordination.
But virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there.
One of Grossman's first tasks will be advising Clinton on new senior diplomats to replace Eikenberry and others in the Kabul Embassy.
Both State and Defense suffer from a thin bench of officials with Afghanistan experience. While the heavy U.S. troop presence in Iraq between 2003-2008 created a large number of three- and four-star generals with extensive command experience in that country, the pool is much smaller in Afghanistan.
"What [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates has been wrestling with is whether having that Afghan experience is preferable to widening the aperture and bringing in others who may not have as much experience there but who are fresh and may have a slightly different perspective to offer," said Gates spokesman Geoff Morrell.
Although no final decisions have been made, military officials said that Petraeus, who took command last July, will rotate out of Afghanistan before the end of the year.
The general who replaces Petraeus will have to navigate a tricky relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani leaders. Rodriguez, the second-highest officer now in Afghanistan, has done two combat tours there and is widely thought to have a better feel for the ground battle and the personalities of top Afghan government officials than just about any officer in the U.S. military. But some senior Pentagon officials worry that he lacks the media and political savvy needed for the four-star job in Afghanistan and it does not appear likely at the moment that he will take over for Petraeus.
U.S. officials believe that in the last six months they have made significant progress in rolling back Taliban gains and restoring security in key areas of the south and east, giving the next commander more of a chance to adjust and learn on the job.
"The situation has changed. It is less urgent," Morrell said.
Staff writer Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.