Holbrooke Undergoes 7 More Hours of Heart Surgery

Holbrooke Undergoes 7 More Hours of Heart Surgery
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Photographer: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, underwent more surgery today after a 20-hour operation that ended yesterday, the State Department said.

Today’s seven-hour procedure was necessary after surgery to repair a tear in his aorta was slowed by the failure of his blood to clot, said family friends who spoke on condition of anonymity. Holbrooke’s family “is grateful for the outpouring of support and prayers coming in from his many friends, colleagues and leaders around the world,” State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in an e-mailed statement.

Holbrooke isn’t out of danger and prospects for recovery may not be clear for several days, the friends said. He was admitted to George Washington University Hospital on Dec. 10 suffering from an “aortic bleed,” White House adviser David Axelrod told CNN’s “State of the Union” program today.

The diplomat is “fighting through it,” and is “tough and resilient,” Axelrod said.

Holbrooke, 69, has spent the last two years traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and seeking support from allies to help promote economic development and stabilize the neighboring countries that have been plagued by terrorism.

The envoy fell ill Dec. 10 while working on the seventh floor of the State Department headquarters, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s office is located.

Afghan Assessment

Over the last several months, Holbrooke has been preparing a report for President Barack Obama on the state of governance and development in Afghanistan. The U.S. and its allies have a combined force of about 150,000 troops trying to turn back Taliban advances and train Afghan soldiers and police.

Obama’s national security advisers met at the White House yesterday to discuss the internal assessment of the Afghan war, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mail today.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai wished Holbrooke “a speedy recovery” in a letter that also said “I regretted hearing the news that you had a heart attack, but after receiving the news that your surgery went well, I was relieved,” according to a statement. Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called Holbrooke’s wife Kati Morton today, Crowley said.

The White House released a statement yesterday from Obama saying the president had spoken with Holbrooke’s wife and that Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been with him at the hospital.

‘A Towering Figure’

“Richard Holbrooke is a towering figure in American foreign policy, a critical member of my Afghanistan and Pakistan team, and a tireless public servant who has won the admiration of the American people and people around the world,” Obama said.

Holbrooke is a veteran diplomat who, as an assistant secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, was the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia. He later served as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

He was a diplomat in President Jimmy Carter’s administration and was in charge of U.S. relations with China when the U.S. normalized ties in December 1978.

“We continue to pray for his recovery, and support his family in this difficult time,” Obama said.

The aorta is a major blood vessel about the width of a garden hose that runs from the heart through the chest and abdomen, according to the Mayo Clinic Web site. While surgical repair of a tear in the internal wall is possible, serious complications can arise from interruptions in blood flow.

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