UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly defended his special envoy to Afghanistan after media reports that the United States wants the UN presence beefed up in the conflict-ridden nation.
In a statement welcoming a Security Council resolution that extended the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for another year, Ban commended the leadership of envoy Kai Eide, who he said had significantly expanded the mission in the past year.
"Working closely with Afghan political leaders, [Eide] has led the efforts of the international community to set priorities and rationalize their assistance to Afghanistan," the UN chief said.
Ban does not normally issue statements on rollovers of UN mission mandates, and the March 24 comments appeared prompted by a recent report that Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had a low opinion of Eide.
The March 17 report in "The Times" of London quoted an unnamed U.S. diplomatic source as saying Holbrooke "regards [Eide] as useless and ineffective" and that Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, would be appointed as UNAMA's No. 2.
UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe last week described the report as "factually inaccurate" on the relationship between the United Nations and the United States. UN officials have confirmed, however, that Galbraith is one of several candidates for the No. 2 job.
UN diplomats said privately that Holbrooke and Eide do have their disagreements about Afghanistan. Eide himself, when asked about the "Times" report, said that both of them have strong personalities and "short fuses."
The Security Council resolution, approved by all 15 members including the United States, expressed appreciation for the efforts of Eide, a Norwegian diplomat appointed a year ago after Kabul objected to a plan to name Briton Paddy Ashdown.
As well as dealing with development and aid, UNAMA has a political role to promote good governance and reconciliation in Afghanistan. It has 1,300 staff, while the military struggle against Taliban insurgents is waged by NATO and U.S. forces.
The March 23 resolution stressed UNAMA's role in supporting presidential and local elections due in August and urged that every effort be made to ensure their "credibility, safety and security." Eide warned last week that opposition fears of an unfair poll were well-founded.
It also urged the international forces in Afghanistan to "continue to take robust efforts" to minimize civilian casualties. According to UN figures, international forces killed about one-quarter of the 2,100 civilians who died as a result of military activities last year.
Holbrooke on March 23 rejected a separate British newspaper report that Washington and its European allies sought to create a new chief executive or prime ministerial role in Afghanistan to rival President Hamid Karzai. "I don't know what they're talking about," Holbrooke said of the report in "The Guardian."