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Crocker assumes post as new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan

By David Ariosto, CNN
Ambassador Ryan Crocker at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee June 8, 2011 in Washington.
Ambassador Ryan Crocker at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee June 8, 2011 in Washington.
  • NEW:"We have no interest in permanent bases in Afghanistan," Crocker said
  • NEW: "There will be no rush for the exits," the new ambassador said
  • Ryan Crocker was formally sworn in as the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan on Monday
  • Ambassador Crocker replaces Karl Eikenberry, who spent two years in Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker was formally sworn in as the new United States ambassador to Afghanistan on Monday, just as the first U.S. soldiers began departing the country after nearly 10 years of war.

"There will be no rush for the exits," Crocker said during a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, according to a statement from that office. "The way we do this in the months ahead will have consequences far beyond Afghanistan and far into the future."

Crocker replaces Karl Eikenberry, whose two years in Afghanistan endured strained relations with both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and, at times, high-ranking U.S. military leaders.

A former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Crocker is a considered a seasoned diplomat who previously retired from the foreign service in 2009 after having served in Pakistan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Syria.

During his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Crocker acknowledged that problems such as corruption stand as impediments to success in Afghanistan.

"We wrestled with the same thing in Iraq, and you don't get positive change overnight," he told the senators. "If Iraq was hard -- and it was hard -- Afghanistan in many respects is harder."

His new post nearly coincides with the departure of General David Petraeus, considered the principal author of U.S.-led "surges" in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petraeus -- the former commander of all NATO troops in Afghanistan -- formally handed over command to Marine Corps Gen. John Allen last week.

Allen, who has assumed control of the largest-ever NATO force in the region, told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee in May that the drawdown, to be completed by the end of 2014, is more aggressive than he had anticipated.

"We served together in Iraq, and I can testify that no finer officer has ever worn a U.S. uniform," Crocker said of his new military counterpart.

About 150,000 International Security Assistance Force members are currently deployed in Afghanistan, which includes fewer than 100,000 from the United States. Ten thousand American soldiers are scheduled to leave the country by the year's end

"Let's make one point clear," said the new U.S. ambassador. "We have no interest in permanent bases in Afghanistan."

The ceremony comes as seven areas are being handed over to national security forces in what is the first part of a security transition to Afghan control.

"We will stay as long as we need to and not one day more," Crocker said.

Meanwhile, during a separate event at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobsen hailed Afghan special forces and NATO troops in what he described as "one of the largest operations in some time" against militants, which left at least 30 Haqqani insurgents dead last week.

The Haqqani network is an insurgent group loosely affiliated with the Taliban, which is believed to be based in Pakistan's semi-lawless frontier territories.

But as NATO and Afghan forces ratchet up attacks on insurgent groups along the country's restive southern and eastern provinces -- which border Pakistan -- it is unclear how those attacks affect negotiation and reconciliation efforts.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month acknowledged preliminary talks with Taliban leadership were underway.

"Unfortunately this is a big problem," said Abdul Hakim Mujahed, who served as the Taliban representative for the United Nations beginning in 1997.

Mujahed is currently apart of the 70-member High Peace Council, which was created last year in an effort to foster dialogue with the Taliban.

"The world community and NATO, from one side, they are supporting the process of reconciliation and peace with the armed opposition," he told CNN. "From the other side they are putting military pressure upon them."

In recent weeks, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks and high-level assassinations, including the president's adviser and his half-brother, an influential power-broker in the country's south.

"Afghanistan is still a country at war," said Jacobsen. "There is an insurgency out there that is brutal, that is ruthless (and) that is killing regardless."

Meanwhile, one ISAF service member died Monday following an insurgent attack in western Afghanistan, the military reported.