Category Archives: US Embassy Kabul

Army Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan

– Domani Spero

On April 7, 2014, LAT reported that one year after a 25-year-old diplomat from the Chicago area was killed in a car bombing in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul remembered Anne Smedinghoff  by reading poetry and releasing balloons in a courtyard that was named for her.

“She was a truly remarkable young woman and friend,” U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a solemn ceremony on a sun-splashed afternoon in Kabul.

We’ve previously blogged about this here:

On April 23, 2014, Chicago Tribune’s Geoff Ziezulewicz has an exclusive on a scathing Army report concerning Ms. Smedinghoff’s death, the three U.S. soldiers, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, Spc. Deflin M. Santos Jr., 24, and an unidentified interpreter in Afghanistan on April 6, 2013.  The report says that the mission deliver books …. was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels.”  It also confirmed a tip we received a year ago that a top State Department official, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, was at the book dropoff with Smedinghoff. The report says the senior official  “may have been the main target, although insurgents were perhaps targeting anyone partaking in the mission. The report also notes that the planning and security that should be afforded such a VIP was not provided in this instance. Addleton’s presence at the event that day had not been previously disclosed.”

The Army report, obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act also says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.   The book event at the school was reportedly characterized in military briefings as a “Media Extravaganza.” One soldier reportedly wrote in a statement that he described the event as providing “Happy Snaps,” or photo opportunities, for top officials in Kabul. The company supplying the books reportedly desired “more media reporting.”  Scholastic and State Department representatives told the Tribune that the company did not mandate any kind of publicity event.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s father,  Tom Smedinghoff, said that he had not seen the Army investigation before Wednesday, according to the Tribune.  Meanwhile, the State Department spox told the Tribune that a classified internal review of the day was conducted, and that the department determined no State rules were broken.

The Tribune citing the Army report says that planning for the book giveaway began with a U.S. Embassy email on March 18, 2013, to a State Department civilian at the base. It was to take place at a boys’ school just outside the south wall of the base in the city of Qalat and would be covered by Afghan media.

We think that this is the school where the book event was to take place. If this is wrong, please email us with corrections.

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school's dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul's security force. Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson 4.16.2011

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school’s dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul’s security force.
Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
4.16.2011

Below is a quick excerpt from the Tribune’s report: Poor planning led to River Forest diplomat’s death in Afghanistan:

A U.S. mission to deliver books to a school in Afghanistan that ended in the death of a young foreign service officer from River Forest was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels,” according to a scathing Army report obtained by the Tribune.

The Army report for the first time criticizes civilian and military leaders for not following security protocols in the lead-up to the mission.
[...]
The email, sent from the special projects coordinator of the embassy’s public affairs section, requested “an event to publicize the distribution of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.,” the report said.

“Scholastic donated quite a lot of books for use in the schools in Afghanistan and it took a very long time for those books to get here,” a copy of the email enclosed in the Army report states. “Scholastic would like to see more media reporting.”

Qalat was chosen because a local official had requested such a visit and “partly because we would like Scholastic to feel as though we are doing something,” the email states. “Because we think the visuals would be nice, we thought that Qalat would be the perfect place for a media tour.”

Apparently,  the State Department’s presence at the base in Zabul ended 12 days after the attack. The Tribune also reported that the Army administratively disciplined two officers after the attack. Do you know what happened internally at State following the Zabul attack?

Read the full report here and weep.

We sent emails asking questions about this incident last year, nothing except one came back. One source in Kabul would not confirm or deny the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smedinghoff’s death.  The individual also declined to provide details of the the attack.  There was a concern then that this could become political given what happened in Benghazi.  But more telling perhaps was what my source pointed out — that Ms. Smedinghoff  would not have had the authority to make the decision about her movements.  No one gets to make those decisions unilaterally at US Mission Afghanistan.

We’d like to see the State Department declassify its internal report on the Zabul attack.  We think the Smedinghoff family should have access to it if it so desire.  The State Department spokesperson said that no State rules were broken. If so, there should not be a problem with releasing that internal review.  It would be in the public interest to see how the agency’s internal review stack up against the Army report.

That said, we do not/not think that State will disclose its internal review unless compelled to do so by court or the Congress. 

Of course, nothing precludes Secretary Kerry from declassifying the internal review and voluntarily releasing it now in light of the Army report. 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Ambassadors, Americans Abroad, Defense Department, Diplomatic Attacks, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul, War

Snapshot: Top Recipients of State Dept Afghanistan Reconstruction Funds (2002-2013)

–Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

State data indicated that the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients,who averaged about $676 thousand each in total obligations.

The top recipient of State reconstruction funding by total awards was Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp). Dyncorp received approximately $2.8 billion in contracts, accounting for 69 percent of total State Department reconstruction awards. The majority of Dyncorp contracts were for governance and rule-of-law activities such training and equipping the Afghan National Police. Dyncorp contracts included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure, and fielding police equipment and vehicles. PAE Government Services Incorporated (PAE) received the second largest amount of total State reconstruction awards, receiving $598 million in contracts. PAE contracts supported development of the rule of law, including police training, counter narcotics advising, and justice sector development.

Of the total reported awards between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013, 98 percent of awards by total value were scheduled to be complete by the end of calendar year 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22

According to SIGAR, the U.S. Congress appropriated $96.57 billion between fiscal year (FY) 2002 and FY 2013 for Afghanistan reconstruction, principally for the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). SIGAR analysis of Department of State data indicates that State obligated nearly $4 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan between the beginning of fiscal year 2002 and March 2013.

Read more here (pdf).

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Iraq Got BLISS, Now US Mission Afghanistan Gets ALiSS or Afghanistan Life Support Services

– Domani Spero

FP’s Gordon Lubold recently wrote about The Diplomatic Brain Drain in Afghanistan:

By summer, after a possible runoff election chooses Karzai’s successor, most of the mid-level and senior U.S. civilians with deep Afghanistan experience who would have the knowledge to help foster strong relations with the new government will be long gone. And, officials familiar with the matter said, they will be replaced by diplomats expected to have far less experience.
[...]
The drain of institutional knowledge from Kabul this summer stems largely from the State Department’s staffing policy when it comes to Afghanistan. Unlike other posts for which two- and three-year tours are typical, State usually keeps diplomats in Afghanistan for just one year before pulling them out. While the U.S. military has also been criticized for short tours that make it harder to cultivate and maintain relationships with the military’s Afghan counterparts, it’s the State Department that has for years come under the most criticism for one-year rotations in part because diplomats are considered to have greater influence over broader swaths of the Kabul government.

A State Department official said in an email that while one-year tours in Afghanistan will be in effect and many diplomats will leave Kabul this summer, the Department will ensure there aren’t gaps created by rotating out the current spate of diplomats.

 

The State Department has done one-year assignments in Afghanistan for the last decade.  Since it did not change the TOD while the military is still there, we doubt very much that it will change to 2-year tours if/when the military “departs” at the end of 2014. (See 10 Facts About US Withdrawal from Afghanistan).

The Department has for years also offered “linked assignment” incentives to all bidders on non-DS Afghanistan (Entry-Level personnel bidding on entry-level assignments excepted). This means that an employee’s Afghanistan assignment is linked to his/her onward assignment, typically to non-hardship postings. Folks leaving Afghanistan this summer already have their next jobs selected for them a year ago. And if these FSOs get extended another year in Afghanistan (we don’t see that happening), there will be gaps at various embassies and consulates where these FSOs were scheduled to assume posts.

What should be interesting to see is how many FSOs have done repeat tours in Afghanistan in the past 12 years, and how many of those with language training, have done multiple tours in Kabul or other posts in the country.

In related news, the State Department is planning for the departure of the U.S. Military from Afghanistan. According to State, December 2014 will mark the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, with Afghan forces taking the lead for security country-wide. This change will have implications for the Department of State. Along with the principal responsibility for the diplomatic mission,the State Department will now have the responsibility for providing life support services to Chief of Mission personnel in Afghanistan, including the Embassy staff, but also the Department’s contract personnel.

Related post: US Mission Iraq: Get ready for BLISS… no, not perfect happiness — just Baghdad Life Support Services

The State Department has issued a draft solicitation for a period of one (1) year with four (4) one year options contract for life support services for the Kabul Embassy Compound (KEC) Afghanistan and other U.S. government sites within the country.

The Afghanistan Life Support Services (ALiSS) program includes food operations and logistics, fire protection, vehicle maintenance services, laundry services, medical services, Regional Security Officer (RSO) support, warehouse operations, and miscellaneous support services and workforce augmentation personnel currently provided through other programs, Interagency Agreements or contracts.   The following life support services requirements will be included as optional services to be exercised at the Government’s discretion: Fuel support and logistics, to include procurement, storage, delivery and planning; Postal Services Support; Waste Management Services, to include solid, gray— and black—water, recycling; Recreational Services Management and/or support; Laundry Services; Transportation Services; Airfield Services and operations.

Now Staffing, or What’s Laundry Gotta Do With It?

The Lubold piece on FP says that the State Department would not provide the number of U.S. foreign service officers serving in Afghanistan. A U.S. official did tell FP that there are about 250 to 300 foreign service officers assigned to the U.S. embassy in Kabul with “the bulk of them are departing this summer.”  

There may actually be more according to the ALiSS solicitation which estimates the amount of laundry that needs washing per week.  Of course, the laundry line item in the solicitation did not separate FSOs, specialists, contractors, etc but we thought this interesting.  As of March 2014, quantities being laundered in Kabul include “An approximate maximum of 150 ongoing TDY occupants which require a once a week washing of bed linens and towels (approximately 50 loads per week) and “GSO HOUSING: An additional 250 residential size (20 pound) laundry loads per week.”

What will the future mission staffing look like?

According to the ALiSS solicitation, Embassy Kabul’s total permanent capacity will house 858 staff by 2017 but the total mission staffing appears to be three times that number.  Below is the breakdown of anticipated staffing according to the publicly available solicitation for life support services for US Mission Afghanistan:

  • The West Compound includes the New Chancery, the Old Chancery, three staff diplomatic apartment buildings (“SDAs”), and the Marine House. The West Compound also has a number of non—permanent buildings, offices and residences. By late summer 2017, construction will be completed on three new SDAs, a new Office Annex, a new Office Building Annex, an extension to the warehouse, and an extension to the Marine House. The Embassy’s total permanent capacity will house 858 staff.
  • The Kabul Embassy Complex (KEC) contains two major cafeterias with one on the West Embassy compound and the second on the East Compound. A third cafeteria is under construction within the new Office Annex in the West Compound and is expected to be operational by January 1, 2015. Each cafeteria offers three main meals per day seven days a week, as well as a salad/sandwich bar for afterhours dining.  The cafeteria on the West Compound is a 390 m2 facility that has a seating capacity for roughly 160 personnel.  The cafeteria on the East Compound is a 300 facility that has a seating capacity of roughly 150 personnel.
  • Camp Eggers: The majority of the housing will be containerized housing units (CHUs). The electric plant will be six diesel generators that will provide primary power for the entire camp. There will be wells added to the camp to provide water and the water will be treated. The camp population will be 1,500 personnel and Phase One construction should be completed by mid—2015.
  • Camp Seitz: The camp population is currently 620 personnel, but the number will likely rise to nearly 800 by mid—2015.

Additional Mission Afghanistan sites may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Consulate General Herat and supporting facilities (including Camp Kodiak): The diplomatic platform in Herat is a full Consulate. The current location, in a former “five star” luxury hotel, houses all COM operations in the consular district. The site provides housing, offices, a large dining facility that can be used as a shura/conference center, and other traditional Consulate components. The Consulate is currently negotiating for the acquisition of additional adjacent property to provide the potential for a helicopter landing zone. Projected post—2014 staffing in Herat is 101 (27 US direct hire/ 74 Local Employed Staff).
  • Consulate General Mazar—e Sharif and supporting facilities (including Camp Little Bear): The diplomatic platform is a formal Consulate that will continue to be located at the German NATO base, Camp Marmal, until NATO military forces withdraw from the base. The Consulate operates from U.S. and NATO military constructed hardened office space, plywood temporary office structures, hardened housing units, and containerized housing units. Life support is provided largely by German NATO forces at Camp Marmal, with limited support from U.S. military forces. Projected post—2014 staffing at this location is 70 (20 US direct hire / 50 Local Employed Staff).
  • Kandahar Diplomatic Presence: The diplomatic platform at Kandahar will continue to be located on the U.S. NATO Kandahar Air Field until all U.S. and NATO military forces withdraw from the Air Field. The diplomatic platform operates from a two—acre compound in close proximity to Camp Valdes, known as the “C&C Compound” site. The compound supports 27 direct hire employees and 7 Locally Employed Staff, but the compound is capable of supporting 50+ personnel with housing and office space. The compound provides office space for 16 people but could be retrofitted to accommodate the entire platform, if needed. The site includes a dining facility that is not utilized at this time. It also includes recreational facilities, gymnasium, picnic area, and shop space.
  • Jalalabad Diplomatic Presence: The diplomatic platform at Jalalabad is located on U.S. military forces’ base FOB Fenty, adjacent to Jalalabad Air Field. The diplomatic platform operates from U.S. military constructed hardened office space, plywood temporary office structures, and hardened housing units. U.S. military forces at FOB Fenty provide all life support. There is no DOS security contractor staff at Jalalabad and all current and foreseeable future movements depend upon military assets. Projected post—2014 staffing at this location is 9 (6 US direct hire / 3 Local Employed Staff).
  • Bagram Embassy Liaison Office: The Liaison Office will operate from U.S. military constructed hardened office space and reside in housing units provided by the military. U.S. and NATO military forces at BAF provide all life support. There is no State Department security contractor staff at Bagram and all movements depend upon military assets. Projected staffing at this location is 5 US direct hire.

The ALiSS solicitation also says that  “Due to the evolving U.S. profile in Afghanistan, the schedule for solicitation, award and implementation is aggressive and subject to change.”

 

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State Dept Seeks Drug/Steroid Testing of Security Personnel in Afghanistan and Jerusalem

The State Department is looking for a contractor to provide drug and steroid screening of all Diplomatic Security employees in Afghanistan and Jerusalem. The announcement was posted on FedBiz on Apr 29, 2013  per Solicitation Number: RFI(04292013):

Via FedBiz

The Department of State (DoS) Office of Diplomatic Security (DS) is concerned with the well-being of its employees, the successful accomplishment of agency missions, and the need to maintain employee productivity. Many of the DS-hired U.S. Citizen (USC) and Third Country National (TCN) direct hire and/or contract positions in Afghanistan and Jerusalem involve the use of weapons and access to highly sensitive information that must not be compromised. It is critically important that such armed employees, or those employees exposed to extreme conditions, be reliable, stable, and show good use of judgment. Illegal drug and steroid use creates the possibility of coercion, influence, and irresponsible action under pressure, all of which may pose a serious risk to national defense, public safety, and security. Prior to deployment, all employees certify that drug testing and steroid screening is a nonnegotiable condition of employment.

This performance work statement defines the drug and steroid testing requirements (hereinafter referred to as “Substance Screening”) applicable to DS-hired USC and TCN direct hires and/or contract positions in Afghanistan and Jerusalem. In this document, DS will be referred to as the DS who will receive support from the Contractor. Employee will be the all-encompassing term for DS direct hires, personal services contractors, or third party contractors.

Below is part of the Scope of Work posted with the solicitation:

The Contractor shall be licensed to operate through the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and Government of Israel, and shall be in full compliance with host country business requirements. The Contractor will be self-sufficient and required to provide all life support, travel and security needs for staff. In addition, the Contractor shall support all shipping, maintenance, and housing of equipment necessary to perform services. The Contractor will provide all resources to perform random and non-random Substance Screening, preferably at the following locations, with the corresponding number of estimated employees:

• Kabul: 1300
• Mazar e-Sharif: 150
• Herat: 175
• Jerusalem: 55

Random screening will be on a semiannual basis (every six months) as well as non-random substance testing. All random and non-random substance testing performed shall comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules (http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/summary/i

[...]

The Contractor shall be prepared to test for the following drugs utilizing a rapid urine test in Afghanistan and/or Israel, except for Steroid:

  • Amphetamine
  • Opiate
  • Benzodiazepine
  • Barbituates
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Steroid: Refer to the following commonly abused steroids on the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NISA) website or at Steroidabuse.gov.

Security contractors in Afghanistan, particularly those in Kabul  have a um… colorful history (see POGO writes to Secretary Clinton about US Embassy Kabul Guards) so it’s only surprising that it took this long.  But it is  curious about Jerusalem though, isn’t it? Anyone knows what prompted this?

Update:  We understand from a blog pal that this may not be anything new as apparently drug screening is routinely done for “high threat protection” contractors.  Jerusalem has protection contractors that predates both Iraq and Afghanistan as it covers all official travel to Gaza and the West Bank.  But according to a Q&A posted online on FedBiz, these drug tests have not been performed in Israel in the past.

 

– DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GOP’s Benghazi Report: Anonymous DS Agent, Whistleblowers and Embassy “Security”

There are three items we found interesting in Appendix I of the House GOP’s interim report on Benghazi.

House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform: The Committee has heard from, and continues to hear from, multiple individuals with direct and/or indirect information about events surrounding the attacks in Benghazi.

On April 17, CBS News reported that multiple new whistleblowers are privately speaking to investigators with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and that the Committee had sent new letters to the CIA, DOD and State. If there are multiple whistleblowers as claimed here, we could be looking at Benghazi hearings going on all the way to 2014 and even 2016. By then Diplopundit Jr. would be old enough to drive and what more, junior would never ever again confused Benghazi with Bujumbura. So that’s something to look forward to.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Approached a DS agent who was on the scene in a not-yet-successful effort to obtain additional information. This individual wishes to remain anonymous. 

The individual may wish to remain anonymous but that anonymity is not going to go very far inside the building. How many DS agents were on the scene of the attacks again?  That’s a pretty thin cover.  Poor guy won’t get any peace or space between now and then, whenever then maybe.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Building on its Benghazi investigation, the Committee is taking a broader look at embassy security to determine whether the State Department is adequately protecting its personnel at other diplomatic facilities. Improving embassy security is a Committee legislative priority. The Committee is particularly concerned about, and is currently investigating, the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. 

Well, then all we can add is that the Committee better hurry with the broader look Congress is doing before it’s too late.

It can start with the Consulate General in Jeddah

Want to go further than 2007?   Why don’t we try 30 years back with the US Embassy in Beirut?

Apparently, thirty long years after the Beirut embassy bombing, we might be close to finally building a Fortress in Beirut. Ay caramba but it’s now happening!

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953.

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953. This project is not related to the current one. (image via the Lebanese Architecture Portal – click on image to view original material)

While at it, Congress might want to see if the State Department bothered to learn anything from the embassy mob attacks last year since no ARB was ever convened.  We understand that in some of those posts attacked, there were strict orders from the front office to restrict dissemination of information and photos on the extent of the damages (US Embassy Tunis was one exception).

Might it be true that some of our embassies in the Arab Spring countries are trying to shape perceptions to what they imagine their embassy and host country should be instead of basing post and host country expectations on reality?

If the Committee is particularly concerned about the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan where we have a large number of contract guards and the U.S. military, should it not be also concerned with the U.S. Embassy in Egypt where neither is present and mobocacy now rules?

– DS

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US Mission Afghanistan: New Ambassador Sworn in a Country Forgotten by Presidential Candidates

The new U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham was sworn in by Consular Officer Alissa Redmond at the U.S. Embassy on August 12 in Kabul.  Ambassador Cunningham previously served as Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan.

Ambassador James Cunningham swearing-in at US Embassy Kabul.
Photo via US Embassy Kabul/Flickr
(click on photo to view the slideshow)

If you have the time and the interest, the swearing-in video including the ambassador’s speech is here.

Meanwhile, back here at home, the presidential campaigns are in full swing. The veepstakes finally has a winner.  And the Super PACs and the gazillionaires are doing their best spending obscene amounts of money to help “speed up” the economic recovery and get their man into the White House.  Really, you don’t think this economy would have been a lot, lot worse without all that money pouring in, all that election hiring, ad campaigns, pizza, etc. etc.  Thank god for the green slime!

And then, of course, with the line-up complete and the presidential campaigns in full swing, The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins had the audacity to bring up that almost forgotten country of Afghanistan.

“How’s this for a conspiracy of silence? With less than three months to go until Election Day, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have successfully avoided saying almost anything about America’s war in Afghanistan. Remember that war?”

Do we really want to remember that in August we already have 289 coalition forces dead in Afghanistan? Or that attacks on U.S. and NATO troops by Afghan security forces, the so called ‘green-on-blue’ attacks which has resulted in death is already at 34, two less than the casualties from the entire 2011? Or that 108 civilian contractors have already died in Afghanistan in the first two quarters of 2012?

We do, we do, but who’s asking the candidates? Perhaps we need Will McAvoy to ask the candidates about their state of amnesia over these affairs far, far away, including green slime growing on trees or in somebody’s bank account.

Domani Spero

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US Mission Afghanistan: USAID Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah, Four Others Killed, Two Wounded in Suicide Attack in Kunar

A suicide attack on August 8 at the Kunar Province of Afghanistan killed USAID Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah, two soldiers, Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin and airman, Maj. Walter D. Gray. The attack also killed an unnamed Afghan civilian,  wounded an unnamed Foreign Service Officer and seriously wounded Col. James Mingus, the 4th Brigade’s  commander.

According to ABC News, the deadly attack took place Wednesday when two suicide bombers detonated suicide vests as a team of American military and civilian officials approached the provincial council’s office in Sarkowi in Kunar Province.

On August 9, Secretary Clinton released the following statement:

The United States strongly condemns the suicide attack yesterday in Kunar province, Afghanistan, that killed USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah, three ISAF service members and an Afghan civilian, and injured a State Department Foreign Service officer. On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I have sent my deepest condolences to Ragaei’s family and to the entire U.S. Mission in Afghanistan.

Ragaei’s work over the last year was critical to our efforts to support Afghanistan’s political, economic, and security transitions and was an example of the highest standards of service. Over the last 15 months — partnering with local officials — he worked in eastern Afghanistan to help establish new schools and health clinics, and deliver electricity to the citizens of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces. Ragaei was so committed to our mission and to the people of Afghanistan that he volunteered to serve a second year.

With the work of people such as Ragaei, the civilian surge we launched in Afghanistan in 2009 has made a tremendous impact, strengthening the capacity of the Afghan Government and laying a foundation for long-term sustainable development. Though we are shocked and saddened by this loss and will miss Ragaei, our efforts will continue.

Read the entire statement here.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah also released the following statement:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the American people, I have sent my deepest condolences to the family of USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah who died yesterday in Afghanistan along with several members of the International Security Assistance Force and Afghan civilians during a terrorist attack in Kunar Province. This tragedy is a testament to the deep commitment and sacrifice of our dedicated staff who serve in conflict countries like Afghanistan around the world.

Ragaei recently began a voluntary second tour in Afghanistan in order to continue his critical support of Afghanistan’s stability and long-term development.  His hard work has helped to bring key services and improvements to the people of Afghanistan such as schools, health clinics, and electricity to the citizens of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces.

Prior to joining USAID, Ragaei had more than 15 years of professional development experience both in the United States and overseas. He was also working to complete a PhD in Planning, Governance, and Globalization at Virginia Tech University.

Read the whole statement here.

Mr. Abdelfattah is survived by his two teenage sons and wife.  We don’t know anything more about him except that he has a Picasa photo gallery with wonderful photos from Cairo and Luxor (and more) and that prior to joining USAID, he worked as a  planning supervisor for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

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Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, of West Point, N.Y., and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 45, of Laramie, Wyo who were killed in the same attack were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo. According to DOD, they died Aug. 8, in Sarkowi, in Kunar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when they encountered an insurgent who detonated a suicide vest.  Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38, of Conyers, Ga., was assigned  to the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Carson, Colo.

Lohud.com reports that Major Kennedy entered the Army on May 27, 2000, after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He leaves behind wife, Kami, and two twin children, a boy and a girl under age 2. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart posthumously according to a DOD spokesman.

Sgt. Major Griffin had been deployed to Afghanistan since March 13. It was his first deployment in the country after having served three tours in Iraq. He had also been deployed to Kuwait and the Balkans during his Army career. Griffin was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, according to information provided by Fort Carson.

The AP reports that Major Gray was commissioned in October 1997 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps after serving as an enlisted airman and was one of the Air Force’s first career air liaison officers.

Our thoughts and prayers to the families of the departed and the recovery of those wounded.

How. Many. More?

Domani Spero

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US Mission Afghanistan: But … DHS on the Deaths of Civilian Contractors in Herat

On Sunday, July 22, ISAF announced that “An individual wearing an Afghan National Security Force uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force contracted civilian employees in western Afghanistan today, killing three.  The individual who fired on the ISAF contracted civilian employees was killed during the engagement. The incident is currently under investigation.” ISAF did not release the names of the casualties.

This is getting old. Why don’t they just come out and say “An ANSF soldier killed three contractors hired to help …” And do we ever hear what happen with those investigations?

Reuters, citing NATO numbers reports that there have been 20 green on blue attacks on foreign troops since January in which 27 people have been killed.  It also says that “NATO commanders have downplayed most episodes as the work of disgruntled Afghan soldiers, rather than as evidence of Taliban infiltration of the security forces.”

According to NYT, since the start of 2010, there have been 52 green-on-blue attacks resulting in 82 deaths.  The Reuters report notes that this latest attack is not technically considered to be the 21st green on blue attack this year as the victims were all contractors.

The contractors are still dead. Here is an infographic from the New America Foundation:

Attacks on U.S and NATO Soldiers by Afghan Security Forces
Via www.Newamerica.net  under Creative Commons License

It looks like the US Embassy in Kabul made no statement of this incident, or if it did, the statement is not on its website.  Just the first half of July, the embassy has already condemned the Wedding Hall Suicide Attack (July 14, 2012), Condemns Attack in Kandahar (July 8, 2012) and Condemns the Public Execution of a Woman by the Taliban in Parwan (July 8, 2012).

Does anyone know what comes after condemnation? A drone?

But no condemnation for this, it seems.

On the day of the attack, US Embassy Kabul in Facebook was busy congratulating Romal Hamidi as its 12,000th fan. The next several hours, it posted items on the 2012 London Olympics, Ambassador Crocker hosting a reception for women’s rights leaders, Ambassador Crocker becoming a honorary marine, and something on ramadan.

On the day of the attack, over in the Twitters, @USEmbassyKabul writes:

I liked a @YouTube video http://youtu.be/coP5JlinXiE?a  U.S. Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement in Force.

The next several hours it mostly tweeted about Ambassador Crocker becoming a honorary marine.

And no mention of the dead.

On July 24, two days after the Herat killings, the DHS Press Office released a statement by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano:

“It is with great sadness that I learned this weekend of the fatal shooting of three contractors stationed at the Herat Training Center in Herat, Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of former U.S. Border Patrol Agent and retired ICE Agent Benjamin Monsivais, retired CBP Port Director Joseph Perez, and retired Her Majesty’s United Kingdom Revenue and Customs Officer David Chamberlain.

All three individuals were supporting Afghan Border Police training efforts when they came under attack. Their tragic deaths remind us of the dangers facing our men and women overseas, and the many sacrifices they make on our behalf every day.

Two other individuals were wounded in this senseless attack. We pray for the swift recovery and continued safety of former Border Patrol Agent Dana Hampton and language assistant Aimal Formully. We also applaud the tremendous bravery and heroism of the CBP Border Patrol Agent who responded to the attack and prevented the gunman from causing further harm and injury to others.”

Am I the only one who think it is kinda strange that Secretary Napolitano is the person making this statement and that Embassy Kabul and its social media ninjas maintained internet silence over this shooting? The deceased were contractors, two were American citizens.

At least the American Contractors in Iraq is keeping tally of the best kept secret in the warzones, the deaths of civilian contractors;  59 dead so far in the second quarter of 2012; 418 deaths in 2011.  Did you know that?

By the way, the Herat Regional Training Center completed a large-scale expansion project just last year, which reportedly increased its student numbers from 300 to 800 per course. The $4.2 million project added 59 structures to the Afghan National Security Forces training compound including: six two-story barracks which house nearly 600 student, two barracks for about five-dozen faculty, a new 300-person dining facility, latrines and showers, seven two-story classrooms, medical and administrative offices, storage and laundry facilities, and security bunkers.

If you build it, they will come … and they sure did, but they also come bearing arms with bullets bought with our money, and we’re too chicken to acknowledge that.

Domani Spero

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Filed under Afghanistan, Contractors, Huh? News, Media, Social Media, US Embassy Kabul, War

Photo of the Day: President Karzai Awards Afghanistan State Medal to US Ambassador Crocker

On July 16, President Karzai awarded Ambassador Ryan Crocker “the Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan prestigious state medal for strengthening the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan.”

Photo by ARG via US Embassy Kabul/FB

Here is the official statement from the presidential palace:

July 16, 2012- President Hamid Karzai awarded, in line with Item 19, Article 64  of Afghanistan Constitution, the “Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan prestigious state medal” to Ryan Crocker, outgoing US Ambassador in appreciation of the praiseworthy services he has delivered in further strengthening Afghan-US relations and for accurately introducing Afghanistan to the people of America and the international community.

The special ceremony held on Monday to this end was attended by Dr. Zalmai Rasul Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Spanta National Security Advisor to the President and Abdul Karim Khuram Presidential Chief of Staff.

Ryan Crocker, whose diplomatic mission currently ended, has served as US Ambassador to Afghanistan from July, 2011 till now.

The palace statement did not say who is Allama Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan for which this state medal is named after.  As best we could tell, this is Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani also listed in the Wikipedia entry as “Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani” a political activist and Islamic ideologist born in 1838.  The Afghan Wiki has the following entry:

Al-Afghani is often described as one of the most prominent Islamic political leaders and philosophers of the nineteenth century. He was concerned with the subjection of the Muslim world by Western colonial powers, and he made the liberation, independence and unity of the Islamic world one of the major aims of his life. He provided a theoretical explanation for the relative decline of the Islamic world, and a philosophical theory of history which sought to establish a form of modernism appropriate to Islam.

Click here to read more.  Apparently in the 1880s, “Jamaluddin while in London encouraged the British to declare war on Tsarist Russia, and to get a Muslim Jehad in favor of the British, When he failed to achieve this aim, in 1887 he asked the same thing from Tsarist Russia to declare war on the British. Afghani knew well, since, Muslims and Asians cannot, match the military and economic power of Europeans, he wanted to get the support of the British or Tsarist Russia in order to fight the colonial powers.”

How come that sounds familiar …

Domani Spero

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Officially In: James B. Cunningham – from Kabul to Kabul

On July 17, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador James B. Cunningham as the next Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador James B. Cunningham, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, is Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.  Prior to his post in Kabul, Ambassador Cunningham served as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2008 to 2011.  From 2005 to 2008, he was U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong.  Previous assignments include: Ambassador and Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1999-2004); Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Rome (1996-1999); Director of the State Department’s Office of European Security and Political Affairs (1993-1995); and Chief of Staff to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General (1989-1990).  Earlier assignments include posts with the U.S. Mission to NATO, as well as posts at the U.S. Embassies in Rome and Stockholm.

Ambassador Cunningham received a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Psychology from Syracuse University.

If confirmed, Ambassador Cunningham would succeed Ambassador Ryan Crocker currently doing the press rounds as he prepares to return to retirement a full year before his two year tenure was to end due to health reasons.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador gives remarks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham, Afghan Minister of Education Abdul Rahim Wardak and visitng former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad officially inaugurated the newly rebuilt Ghazi High School in West Kabul October 23, 2011. Former alumni of the school include both Ambassador Khalilzad and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The school was destroyed during 30 years of fighting in Afghanistan, and was refurbished by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Department of State)
click on image for a slideshow

As noted in his brief bio, Ambassador Cunningham was the chief of mission at the US Embassy in Israel prior to his assignment in Kabul in 2011.  So we dug up the OIG report during his tenure in Israel, which has some really good things to say about his three-year assignment in Tel Aviv:

  • The Ambassador has forged productive relationships with senior Israeli and Washington officials, adding significant value to one of the United States’ most sensitive and central bilateral relationships.
  • Given the intersection of U.S. foreign policy objectives, high-profile domestic attention to Israel, and historically intransigent issues, Embassy Tel Aviv’s leadership faces challenges matched in intensity in only three or four other world capitals. The Ambassador performs commendably in this context and has advanced the U.S. relationship with the Israeli Government in the 2 years since his arrival.
  • Because few bilateral relationships attract the attention of as many senior American officials as the relationship with Israel, the Ambassador has a unique opportunity to interact daily or weekly with the President; National Security Adviser; Secretary of State; top legislators, military figures, and their senior staffs; the SEMEP; the general who heads the Roadmap Monitoring Mission; and the general who acts as the USSC.
  • Embassy section heads described the Ambassador as a masterful briefer of Members of Congress and senior U.S. military officers; his astute grasp of the forces at play in Israel helps shape their views and programs.
  • The heads of U.S.agencies at the embassy were unanimous in their appreciation for the Ambassador’s support for and involvement in their work.

The report has the following item, too, which if uncorrected would make managing one of the largest embassies in the world a double challenge:

Communication within the mission is limited. The Ambassador is respected for his intellectual ability but rarely interacts with employees below the most senior ranks.

He is reportedly a persuasive speaker; we’re looking forward to his confirmation hearing and see if he’ll make us feel any better about our prospects in Afghanistan.

Domani Spero

Related items:

OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-31A – Inspection of Embassy Tel Aviv, Israel – March 2011

July 17, 2012 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

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