Britain's Afghan envoy takes extended leave 'amid tensions'

22nd June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's special envoy to Afghanistan has taken "extended leave," officials said Monday, amid reports that he clashed with NATO and US officials over strategy to tackle the Taliban insurgency.

Sherard Cowper-Coles has stepped down from his role just a month before a crucial international conference in the Afghan capital Kabul, which will be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

"He's on extended leave and he is returning in the autumn," said a Foreign Office spokeswoman in London, without making clear what role he would be coming back to later in the year.

New Foreign Secretary William Hague is to review the post of special envoy to Afghanistan, the BBC reported, citing a Foreign Office source, but added the foreign minister had not sacked the envoy and had wanted him to remain.

Cowper-Coles was appointed to the role, which also covers Pakistan, in February 2009 after serving as ambassador to Kabul.

The Guardian newspaper reported Monday that there were serious disagreements in recent months between Cowper-Coles and officials from military alliance NATO, which is leading international troops in the country, and the US.

He was convinced the military-focused counter-insurgency effort was headed for failure and wanted talks with Taliban insurgents to be a priority, said the paper.

The special representative role will be filled on a temporary basis by Karen Pierce, Foreign Office director for Afghanistan and South Asia, reports said.

The senior British diplomat's departure came ahead of a major conference on July 20 in Kabul, where a host of senior foreign officials will join Clinton and the UN secretary general.

The event follows a London meeting on Afghanistan in January that pledged international support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's plans to reintegrate moderate Taliban fighters who renounce violence.

The news of Cowper-Coles's departure emerged on the same day Britain announced its 300th death in Afghanistan since operations began there in 2001, amid mounting opposition here to the nine-year campaign.

The latest victim, from 40 Commando Royal Marines, died in hospital in Birmingham, central England, Sunday after being seriously injured in an explosion in Sangin, Helmand Province, on June 12, the Ministry of Defence said.

Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second largest contributor after the United States to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

© 2010 AFP

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