US-Ambassador-Afghanistan-James-AP-670
James Cunningham. - File Photo by AP

WASHINGTON: The US Senate late on Thursday confirmed career diplomat James Cunningham as President Barack Obama's new ambassador to Afghanistan.

Cunningham has been serving as deputy to Ryan Crocker, the US envoy in Kabul who is leaving his post after a distinguished career in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon, among other postings.

The US embassy in Kabul is among the largest in the world, with more than 1,100 US staff, and the envoy will oversee the US transition process as Nato countries, led by the United States, withdraw the remaining 130,000 troops after more than 10 years of war.

All foreign combat forces are due to have left by the end of 2014, and the United States faces the challenge of helping build up the capability of Afghan security forces ahead of the handover of security operations.

Cunningham's confirmation was among a long list of envoys confirmed by the Senate before lawmakers began a five-week summer break.

Noticeably absent however from the list was Richard Olson, Obama's nominee to be the US envoy in Pakistan.

A Republican congressional aide the Senate was not able to get to all nominations before the Senate wrapped up, and that Olson's “nomination was not sent back to the White House; it remains in consideration.”

Cunningham and Olson participated in the same joint Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, when Cunningham spoke of the challenges facing the United States and the region.

“Today, the pieces of a long-term, enduring support structure for Afghanistan's continuing progress and development are now in place,” he said.

“This makes clear to Afghans and the region that the security transition does not mean we are abandoning Afghanistan,” Cunningham added.

“And the Taliban appear to be taking notice. For the first time in a decade, they are debating and signaling openness to negotiations.”

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