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US envoy to Afghanistan to step down early

By Laura King, Los Angeles Times –

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ryan Crocker, a respected diplomat who came out of retirement to become the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, is leaving his post this summer, a year ahead of schedule.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Thornburg on Tuesday confirmed Crocker’s plans to depart. Rumors had swirled during the weekend summit of NATO in Chicago, which Crocker attended.

The 62-year-old Crocker had previously served as the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, taking the diplomatic helm there during a crucial period — from 2007 to 2009 — that coincided with a sharp increase in U.S. troop levels to tamp down escalating violence. He arrived in Afghanistan last July.

The ambassador’s reasons for leaving the Kabul post were not disclosed, but a diplomatic associate cited personal considerations. As late as Tuesday morning, the embassy was refusing to comment on “personnel matters.”

A likely candidate to succeed Crocker would be James Cunningham, already in the Afghan capital as a diplomat serving under Crocker.

Crocker came to Kabul at roughly the same time as Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, and it had been hoped that the team could remake the troubled American relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and preside over a crucial period of drawdown after last year’s American troop surge.

However, U.S.-Afghan relations remained rocky for much of his tenure.

Though Crocker forged a cordial relationship with Karzai, this year has been marked by a series of highly fraught incidents involving U.S. troops, including the accidental burning of copies of the Quran at an American base, and a U.S. Army sergeant’s alleged shooting rampage outside his base in Kandahar province, in which he has been charged with 17 counts of murder.

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