Obama in tribute to diplomatic 'bulldozer' Holbrooke

Arshad Mohammed and Missy Ryan

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama today led tributes to Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who brokered the accord that ended the war in Bosnia and served as US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who has died.

Holbrooke, whose government career spanned nearly five decades and ranged from junior diplomat in South Vietnam to US ambassador to Germany and at the United Nations, died after surgery to repair a tear in his aorta. He was 69.

He fell ill on Friday during a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and was taken to a hospital, where he underwent hours of extensive surgery to try to save his life.

"Michelle and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Richard Holbrooke, a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected," President Obama said in a statement.

A relentless negotiator who earned a reputation as a "bulldozer" in brokering the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war, Holbrooke was once called "Washington's favourite last-ditch diplomat".

Known for his tenacity, intelligence, charm and, at times, abrasiveness, Holbrooke held some of the most important jobs in US diplomacy, including assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and European and Canadian affairs.

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize seven times, he joined Obama's administration in January 2009 as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, dealing with two of Washington's most vexing foreign policy challenges.

Nine years after the US invasion that toppled the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan, there are nearly 150,000 foreign troops in the country -- almost 100,000 of them from the United States -- fighting an insurgency that has been fortified by its ability to find safe havens in neighbouring Pakistan.

The Washington Post quoted family members as saying that as Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."