Those of us engaged in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region feel Richard Holbrooke’s loss very deeply. Richard was a central figure in the United States’ overall effort, and his sudden death is a significant blow to it. However, his vision, tirelessness and determination will inspire all of us in the months ahead.
Very soon after he was appointed as the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard and I became close partners in the mission. That was the case when I was the commander of U.S. Central Command, and it continued after I took command in Afghanistan nearly six months ago. Both of us recognized from the outset that a great deal needed to be done to “get the inputs right” here – that is, to build the organizations, develop the necessary concepts and plans, and deploy the additional forces and civilians required.
And we worked closely together to do just that – with our respective organizations, in the region, in foreign capitals, on Capitol Hill and at the White House. I like to think that we made an effective civil-military team. Indeed, I used to note to him and to various audiences, with affection and respect, that he was my “diplomatic wingman.” And those of us in uniform joked that it was every commander’s dream to have a diplomatic partner nicknamed “The Bulldozer.”
By the time Richard was appointed the “SRAP,” he was, of course, universally recognized as brilliant, accomplished, larger-than-life, and, above all, tenacious. Indeed, when it came to tenacity, on a scale of 1 to 100, he registered 110.
Most notably, Richard could boil issues down to their essence, distill key policy choices, communicate them effectively and provide wise counsel to the president and secretary of state. His combination of talents was truly unique, and his extraordinary qualities were further enabled by his having personal relationships with what seemed to be anybody who mattered at home and around the world.
Richard was, in short, a diplomatic titan – arguably the diplomatic titan of his generation. His contributions and achievements were legendary even before he took on his final mission, and those of us engaged in that mission will do all that we can to ensure that progress in it is among the legacies that he leaves to future generations.
In the days ahead, however, we will all mourn his sudden death along with Kati and his family, for he was as committed to them as he was to his diplomatic tasks.
David H. Petraeus, the commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.