U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan in critical condition

Richard Holbrooke gestures while speaking during  the Brussels Forum in Belgium in April 2007.  (Associated Press)
Richard Holbrooke gestures while speaking during the Brussels Forum in Belgium in April 2007. (Associated Press)

Torn aorta fells Holbrooke

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Saturday night called Richard Holbrooke “a towering figure in American foreign policy” and said he is praying for the critically ill diplomat’s recovery.

Holbrooke, 69, the president’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was described as being in stable but critical condition after undergoing more than 20 hours of surgery for a torn aorta, the large artery that takes blood from the heart.

The veteran diplomat was meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department on Friday when he suddenly collapsed and was taken to George Washington University Hospital. Holbrooke was seen walking under his own power to the department’s parking garage with a person from State’s medical office.

Hospital officials referred all questions about Holbrooke to the State Department, whose spokesman P.J. Crowley said the surgery on Holbrooke’s torn aorta was completed Saturday morning.

A torn aorta is a condition in which a tear develops in the inner wall of the aorta allowing blood to enter the vessel wall; if not treated quickly it can lead to rapid death.

Even if the surgery has stabilized Holbrooke’s condition, recovery can be expected to take considerable time.

Holbrooke’s illness comes as the Obama administration is expected next Thursday to roll out the results of its review of the Afghanistan war and to push for Afghan forces to assume a greater role in the fighting.

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