By NBC News Atia Abawi
In the early summer months of 2009 the Kabul press corps anxiously awaited the arrivals of President Barack Obama’s new Afghan “Dream Team”. It consisted of Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, General Stanley McChrystal and the now late U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke.
The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, is stepping down this month. He shares his a unique perspective on the country with NBC's Atia Abawi. Eikenberry first arrived in Afghanistan as an Army General, then returned to command all American troops and finally came back as the top American diplomat.
There was an air of hope that came with them. Those of us who have lived in Afghanistan and had invested so much of our lives and time reporting on the story thought, ‘this could be the turning point.’
Looking back, that was a lot of pressure the world put on three individuals. In those years, I had the privilege of getting to know and interviewing all of these men.
Since then, we’ve already seen the departure of General McChrystal after an infamous ‘Rolling Stone’ article forced him to resign and then the untimely death of Ambassador Holbrooke.
Now, Ambassador Eikenberry will move on from something he invested the last two-years of his life to.
NBC was the only U.S. TV network to get an exclusive interview as he bids adieux. And to see the last of the “Dream Team” depart it’s hard not to think back on the two years of intensity and drama these men got tangled into.
The first time I met “Karl” with a few other journalists, we didn’t even recognize him out of uniform. Prior to his diplomatic post he was a U.S. Army General who served two deployments in Afghanistan. We did our research but were thrown for a loop when we saw him in civilian attire.
That day, in June 2009, we went to Bamiyan province with the Ambassador and his wife Ching – the first wife of any U.S. Ambassador to come to Afghanistan with her husband in over three decades.
Ambassador Eikenberry in his speech as he opened Afghanistan’s first national park, spoke of his love for Afghanistan. Something he touched on again in July 2011 as he packs to leave a country he spent five of the last 10 years in.
“I’ll be leaving a big part of my heart behind in this country,” he said in our interview last week, “It couldn’t be any other way. Any soldier or civilian who serves in this country is seized with the drama of Afghanistan.”
And the drama seemed to follow him. From leaked cables he allegedly sent to Washington to his sparky relations with Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.
The dramas always overshadow the achievements.
It is rarely mentioned that in these two-years the “civilian surge” the Ambassador was leading quadruplet in size from the time of his arrival to the day of his departure.
And although we’ve heard of screaming matches and the slamming of doors, the Ambassador says he is going to miss the Afghan President.
“I know that he has a big heart, he appreciates what the Americans have done here for his country,” he said of Karzai. “So set aside the differences on policy, set aside the leaked cables, will I always have in my own heart a big place for president Hamid Karzai? Yes.”
I can go on and on about stories I’ve done on the Ambassador or trips we went on with his staff from one province to another. Whether it was while we popped spicy candy balls in our mouths talking about the Afghan people with General McChrystal or when asking him the tougher questions on just what the civilian effort was actually achieving.
One thing is clear as he departs, I may not know “Karl” that well but I do feel that we lived through a lot together just by being in Afghanistan at a time that some dreams were realized and others were dashed.