Ryan Crocker, who came out of retirement less than a year ago to accept one of the most dangerous U.S. diplomatic assignments, plans to leave his post as ambassador in Afghanistan this summer.
His resignation comes about two weeks after U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter in neighboring Pakistan announced his decision to step down.
Their departures will leave the United States with no top-level diplomatic envoy in the unstable South Asian nations, where U.S.-led NATO troops are battling Taliban militants trying to retake Afghanistan from bases along the border in Pakistan.
The sudden lack of experienced ambassadors in both countries presents a special challenge to the Obama administration, said Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs under former President Bill Clinton.
"I trust the administration will move quickly, very quickly, to put new ambassadors in place," said Mr. Inderfurth, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He said a new ambassador to Pakistan must be a seasoned diplomat with the "ability to speak directly to the White House" to help repair the damage to U.S.-Pakistani relations.
Bitaleral ties have deteriorated since the U.S. raid last year that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in a Pakistan garrison town.
A new ambassador to Afghanistan must be someone with the experience to implement the Strategic Partnership Agreement that Mr. Crocker helped negotiate to govern relations after the planned withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops within two years, Mr. Inderfurth said.
"These two ambassadors are going to need each other," he said. "They should be joined at the hip."
Mr. Inderfurth also urged the White House to pay close attention to the new ambassadors.
"The White House needs to listen to the ambassadors," he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Tuesday confirmed Mr. Crocker's decision to resign, one day after he attended a major NATO summit in Chicago where alliance leaders endorsed U.S. plans to withdraw troops by the end of 2014.
In a terse Twitter statement, the embassy said: "Amb Crocker has confirmed with regret that he will be leaving Kabul this summer."
At the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland praised Mr. Crocker for his "enormous achievements" and said the 62-year-old career diplomat is resigning for "health reasons" after 10 months in Kabul. She did not elaborate.
Mr. Crocker had intended to serve a two-year term when he accepted the assignment in July 2011, about a year and a half after President Obama ordered a surge of 30,000 troops to reinforce U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Mr. Crocker helped negotiate the Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan to help guide relations after the 130,000 U.S. and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
Before he was appointed ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr. Crocker was a dean and professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. He had retired from the Foreign Service after 37 years.
Mr. Crocker had served as ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and as ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 to 2007.
The reason for Mr. Munter's resignation remains shrouded in rumors. The career diplomat quit after serving less than two years. Most ambassadors serve about three years in a post.
He was reportedly upset because Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton undermined his attempts to reach out to Hafiz Saeed, founder of the terrorist Lashkar-e-Taiba group blamed for the 2008 siege of Mumbai.
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