The White House began an Afghan strategy review with Frank Ruggiero as the new acting head of the Af-Pak envoy's office following the death of diplomat Richard Holbrooke on Monday. He will be assisted by two deputies, one of them an Indian American. Ruggiero became Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Holbrooke's deputy, in July, 2010 after serving as the senior US civilian representative for southern Afghanistan.
Ruggiero "will lead the SRAP structure that Richard Holbrooke constructed, and will really serve as one of his finest legacies, assisted by two deputies, Dan Feldman and Vikram Singh", State Department spokesperson, P.J. Crowley said on Tuesday. Crowley also disclosed that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had a brief conversation with the Indian Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Satinder Lambah, following up on a meeting that she had with him and with Holbrooke recently. Lambah "called to express his condolences personally, but also to say that he had some follow up action from his last interaction with the Secretary and with Ambassador Holbrooke", he said.
Whether Ruggiero -- who previously served as acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs from January to June 2009 -- will be named permanent SRAP, is not yet clear. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, besides other members of President Barack Obama's national security team attended the review. The absence of Holbrooke, who died on Monday evening, loomed large over Tuesday morning's Afghan strategy review meeting, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said after a two hour session in the White House situation room.
Obama will present the findings of the Afghan strategy review, meant to assess progress of the US war effort, on Thursday, Gibbs said, but has ordered his team to keep working on it into 2011. But Gibbs noted that it will not contain any shocking revelations and will not change the plan to begin removing troops and transitioning control to Afghan forces by July, 2011 with the goal of being out of Afghanistan by 2014.
"I doubt there will be, in all honesty, a lot of surprise at what the review lays out," he said. "I think you will see... that there has been some important progress in halting the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan, we have seen counter terrorism success at degrading senior Al Qaida leaders, and we've seen greater cooperation over the course of the past 18 months with the Pakistani government." "You also see in the review an enumeration of the continued challenges that we have in that region," Gibbs predicted. "They will focus on a few different areas, but clearly we have to continue to strengthen capacity inside of Afghanistan. And we still have the ongoing challenge and threat of safe havens in Pakistan."