Washington: Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was in critical condition on Saturday after doctors performed surgery to repair a tear in his aorta, the State Department said.
The 69-year-old veteran US diplomat, who brokered the 1995 accord that ended the Balkans war, has been a key player in Obama's efforts to turn around the 9-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Holbrooke fell ill at the State Department on Friday. The department issued a statement saying Holbrooke was admitted to nearby George Washington University hospital on Friday.
"This morning, doctors completed surgery to repair a tear in his aorta," the statement said. "He is in critical condition and has been joined by his family."
The aorta is the major artery carrying blood out of the heart to other parts of the body. Upon leaving the heart, the aorta moves up through the chest toward the head then bends and moves down through the chest and abdomen.
With a meteoric career that included stints in Vietnam as well as serving as the top US diplomat for East Asia, for Europe and at the United Nations, Holbrooke's most notable achievement has been bringing all sides in the Bosnia conflict to the negotiating table at an air base in Dayton, Ohio. The resulting 1995 Dayton accords ended the conflict.
Holbrooke, who has worked as an executive in the financial sector when not at the State Department, was said to be a candidate for secretary of state before the job went to Hillary Clinton.
He travels regularly to Afghanistan and Pakistan in his role as Obama's special envoy, and also has sought to allay concerns in the US. Congress over the course of the war.
During congressional testimony on July 28, Holbrooke conceded that fighting a resurgent Taliban and helping to rebuild Afghanistan were massive tasks. But he repeatedly defended the Obama administration's strategy.
He called the Afghanistan mission "the most difficult job I've had in my career." But, he said, "Number one, on a personal note, I wouldn't be in this job if I thought it was impossible to succeed."
"We're not delusional," Holbrooke added, listing problems in Afghanistan from high illiteracy to trying to help its government be accountable to its own people.
A book by journalist Bob Woodward published this year depicted an internal battle over Afghan policy among members of Obama's national security team.
The book quoted Holbrooke as saying Obama's approach "can't work," while Vice President Joe Biden called Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I've ever met."
Violence in Afghanistan has soared to its highest levels since the Taliban was ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in 2001.
Obama a year ago ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but has said American troops will start coming home in July 2011.
First Published: Saturday, December 11, 2010, 23:43