Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, steps down as NATO cements pullout

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker speaks to journalists during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 22, 2011. AFP/Getty Images

Updated 3:30 p.m. ET

(CBS News) U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, a veteran diplomat who has previously served as the American envoy in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria, is stepping down from his post.

Acting embassy spokesman Mark Thornburg told the Associated Press on Tuesday morning that "Ambassador Crocker has confirmed, with regret, that he will be leaving Kabul this summer."

Later, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Crocker said he would depart for "health reasons" following international donor conferences for Afghanistan this summer in Tokyo and Kabul. In a statement, Nuland said his "tenure has been marked by enormous achievements."

The surprise news of Crocker's departure was first reported by CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell on Monday night, hours after the conclusion of the NATO summit in Chicago, where Crocker was in attendance with President Obama negotiating an agreement for drawing down foreign troops and continuing to support the Afghan military.  (Above, watch Norah O'Donnell report from the summit for the "CBS Evening News")

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At the summit, Mr. Obama and other heads of state announced that the Afghan military will take the lead in combat missions by mid-2013 and bear the full responsibility for providing security for the nation by the end of 2014, winding down the U.S.-led war that started in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

U.S. officials didn't give O'Donnell an immediate reason for Crocker's departure. He had been looking to leave Afghanistan for some time, O'Donnell reports.

"It's a tough place to serve," a senior State Department official told O'Donnell.

After leaving the foreign service in 2009, Crocker came out of retirement to go back to Afghanistan last July. His State Department biography notes that he reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in January 2002 and served as ambassador to Pakistan and later to Iraq under President George W. Bush and as ambassador to Syria under President Clinton.

  • Alex Sundby

    Alex Sundby is an associate news editor for CBSNews.com

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