The death of Richard Holbrooke, who directed the civilian side of the war in Afghanistan, leaves a major void in what has always been the most difficult and vulnerable aspect of President Obama’s strategy.
Tactical military gains have given the administration optimism that Taliban momentum, if not yet reversed, has been stalled. The Afghan army, while far from capable of taking over from the US-led military coalition, is growing in number and ability. But progress in creating a viable and sustainable Afghan government and economy, despite the expenditure of billions of dollars and the efforts of more than 1,000 US officials on the ground, has been an uphill battle, and President Hamid Karzai has been an erratic partner.
Meanwhile, neighboring Pakistan’s stability and determination to rout Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents from border regions remain uncertain. Holbrooke fought hard in Washington to obtain increased economic assistance for Pakistan. His fights in Pakistan to ensure the money was used effectively were equally tough.
Holbrooke’s death is the latest complication in an administration effort plagued by unreliable partners, reluctant allies, and an increasingly skeptical American public and Congress.
As the glue that held the enterprise together, his absence is likely to increase the already formidable challenge the administration faces.
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