Special envoy to Afghanistan takes extended leave

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Britain’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan is taking extended leave, the government said Monday, after a newspaper reported he had clashed with the United States and Nato over Afghan strategy.
The previous Labour government appointed Sherard Cowper-Coles, a former British ambassador to Afghanistan, to the new post of special representative in February last year.
His job was to coordinate with the United States and other countries on policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“After over three years working on Afghanistan, and lately also Pakistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles is taking some well-deserved leave over the extended summer break,” a Foreign Office statement said.
Karen Pierce, a Foreign Office director responsible for Afghanistan and South Asia, would take over as acting special representative, it said.
It said Cowper-Coles would return to work in the autumn, but a spokesman declined to say whether he would return to the same post.The Guardian newspaper reported on its web site that Cowper-Coles had “stepped down” a month before a critical international conference in Kabul. It said he had clashed in recent months with senior Nato and US officials over his insistence that the military counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan was headed for failure, and that priority should be placed on talks with Taliban insurgents.
It said he also had differences with Mark Sedwill, another British diplomat who is Nato’s civilian representative in Kabul.
The British military death toll in Afghanistan reached 300 Monday after a Royal Marine died of injuries suffered in an explosion earlier this month, the Ministry of Defence said.
Britain has 9 500 troops serving in Afghanistan, the second-largest foreign contingent although small compared to the US force which will reach 100 000 by the end of the year.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which took power after Britain’s May 6 election has made Afghanistan its top foreign policy priority.
Prime Minister Cameron said during a visit to Afghanistan this month that the only reason for having British troops there was to defend Britain’s national security and that the troops should not stay for a day longer than necessary. —Reuters