WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. and world leaders expressed sadness at the death of veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who died Monday in a Washington hospital.
"Tonight America has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "Richard Holbrooke served the country he loved for nearly half a century, representing the United States in far-flung war zones and high-level peace talks, always with distinctive brilliance and unmatched determination."
Holbrooke, 69, died at George Washington University Hospital following two operations -- including one lasting more than 20 hours to repair a torn aorta -- after he became ill Friday during a meeting with Clinton. Holbrooke, Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, underwent a second surgical procedure Sunday to improve circulation to his legs.
President Obama said Holbrooke was "a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected." Obama tapped Holbrooke to run diplomatic point in developing a strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Today, I lost a great friend and America lost one of its greatest warriors for peace," Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement. "Richard Holbrooke was a larger than life figure, who through his brilliance, determination and sheer force of will helped bend the curve of history in the direction of progress."
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said his country lost a friend with Holbrooke's death, CNN reported.
"He was an accomplished and experienced diplomat who quickly gained the confidence of interlocutors," Zardari said. "The best tribute to him is to reiterate our resolve to root out extremism and usher in peace."
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, called Holbrooke a "true titan" in the diplomatic world and a key figure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, CNN said.
"It was a privilege to work closely with Ambassador Holbrooke when I was at CENTCOM (Central Command) and then as the commander here in Afghanistan," Petraeus said. "Indeed, it was with considerable pride that we called him our 'diplomatic wingman.' He was, in short, a tremendous diplomatic partner, a great American, and a good friend."
Former President Bill Clinton noted Holbrooke was instrumental in crafting the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia and spent the last two years working to "to counter terrorism and to build a secure, democratic future for Afghanistan and Pakistan," CNN reported.
"Our nation is safer, and our world stronger, because of the work he did," Clinton said. "I will miss my friend very much."