State Dept Casts Doubt on Holbrooke's Final Words: No Transcript

By Nicholas Ballasy | December 14, 2010 | 5:57 PM EST

( – In response to a news report that U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s final words before he died were, “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” State Department spokesman Philip “P.J.” Crowley said the context of Holbrooke’s words to his medical team before surgery were in reference to “finishing the job” in Afghanistan.

Crowley cautioned that there is “no transcript” of Holbrooke’s final words – he died after emergency surgery on his aorta -- and that accounts of his comments vary depending on the source.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, “As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: ‘You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan.’”

Holbrooke was chosen by President Barack Obama to serve as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a State Department briefing, also on Tuesday, Crowley said, “There’s no transcript -- and I’ve consulted with more than one person in the room -- their recollections are similar but their phraseology was not identical. So I would caution about saying this is precisely what he said.”

Crowley added, “The context simply was, you know, as you, those of you many in the room knew Richard very well, a relentless figure, he was already saying, ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do,’ and the medical team was trying to, you know, to get him to prepare for the surgery. And so it was a humorous repartee with the medical team as it was described to me. But they promised to try to fix this challenge while he was in surgery.”

Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, at a press conference in Rome, Italy, on Oct. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito, File)

When pressed on the issue by reporters, Crowley said the “context” of Holbrooke’s comments to his medical team were about “finishing the job” in Afghanistan.

“I just want to caution that there was no recorder in the room,” said Crowley. “I think the context was, you know, finishing the job, which, of course, our policy is to have a combined civilian and military effort.”

“There is a war going on and we believe strongly that the action of the past year that Richard wholeheartedly supported is having an effect on the ground,” said Crowley. “But by that same token, you know, the strategy as it was formulated, you know, calls for also a significant civilian effort which Richard was charged with overseeing, you know, as well as the Afghan-led process to end the hostilities. So this was Richard’s relentless focus up until his passing yesterday.”