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Who will lead the U.N. in Afghanistan?

Who will lead the U.N. in Afghanistan?

The United Nations’ pick to lead the U.N. mission in Afghanistan has turned down the job, citing unspecified personal reasons, according to a senior U.N. official.

The decision by Staffan di Mistura, a veteran U.N. envoy who headed the U.N. mission in Baghdad, complicates the U.N.’s effort to ensure a smooth leadership transition when Kai Eide, the U.N.’s current chief in Kabul, steps down in March.

Eide said that he had informed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of his decision to step down months before his scheduled departure to avoid a leadership vacuum.

U.N. diplomats said that the U.N. has reopened its consideration of a short list of potential candidates, including Jean-Marie Guehénno, the former U.N. peacekeeping chief, Knut Vollebaek, Norway’s foreign minister, and Atonio Gutteres of Portugal, the head of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Jan Koubis, the director of the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, is also under consideration.

The late withdrawal puts a damper on the U.N.’s Afghan strategy on the eve of a major security conference on Afghanistan in London on Jan. 28. Secretary-General Ban was expected to introduce di Mistura as his new representative in Afghanistan. Officials declined to say why di Mistura had withdrawn from consideration. But they said it had to do with family obligations.

This news comes as the U.N. is planning to expand its political mission in Afghanistan by several hundred U.N. staffers as part of broader international move to build up a larger civilian presense to balance the U.S.-led military surge.

Guehénno had been seen as di Mistura’s closest contender for the job. But Guehénno, whose wife is a New York-based attorney, has also expressed misgivings about his taking up a job so far from home, according to one source.

Foreign Policy‘s The Cable previously reported that, according to U.S. official Richard Holbrooke, di Mistura had indeed been offered the position and that the veteran Swedish diplomat had “the unanimous support of the U.S. government.”

UPDATE: Di Mistura is back in. Maybe. See the update here.

AFP/Getty Images