Zabul Attack: Can it possibly get any worse than this?

Via Jay Price and Rezwan Natiq, McClatchy Newspapers, Posted on Wednesday, 04.10.1

Ahmad Zia Abed, a reporter for Shamshad TV, said he and a videographer from his station were among about a dozen people, including the officer, Anne Smedinghoff, 25, whom American soldiers were escorting on the 200-yard walk from the local headquarters of the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team to what they thought was the school. A man at the gate said they had the wrong place, though, that this was the provincial agriculture institute.

The group retraced its steps to the American base to figure out what to do next, Abed said. The entrance to the base is just a few feet from the street, he said, and just as they reached it, walking more or less in single file, something slammed into his back and he staggered forward.
[…]
Abed’s account of the bombing, the most detailed to surface since the explosion, raises new questions about the circumstances that led to the deadliest combat incident in Afghanistan for Americans this year and contradicts what relatives of the victims have said they were told – that Smedinghoff and her military escorts had been in an armored vehicle when it was rammed by a suicide vehicle. Smedinghoff was the first American diplomat to die in Afghanistan during more than 11 years of warfare here.

The FBI has opened an investigation into the attack, said a U.S. government official who declined to be identified because of that investigation. He confirmed Wednesday night that the party had been on foot, and said earlier reports that they were in a vehicle convoy were inaccurate.
[…]
Smedinghoff’s father told journalists in the United States that he’d been told she was in a vehicle and the bomber either rammed it or detonated his explosives nearby. But Abed said she’d been his media escort all the way from Kabul to Qalat, the capital of Zabul province, and that he was certain she was on foot.

Read in full here.

— DS

Zabul Attack: Don’t know a lot but yes, the party was moving on foot …

On the April 10 Daily Press Briefing, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell confirmed the identity of Kelly Hunt as one of the four State Department employees injured on the April 6 attack in Zabul, Afghanistan.  Also that “in addition to those tragically killed, four Department employees were injured as the party was moving on foot a short distance to a school, wearing personal protection gear and under escort of U.S. soldiers.”

A quick look:

— A party of six civilians (five State, one DOD; two killed, four wounded) with three U.S. soldiers as armed escort (all killed) “in a walking movement from the PRT down to the school down the road.”

— Distance from PRT to school – “I don’t know the exact distance, but we’re – this is in yards, not – it was a short distance down the road.”

— Was there some kind of ceremony that was going on? – “I don’t know the whole details…”

— Is that why the governor was there? – “I’m not sure….”

— Could you confirm there were two suicide bombers? – “I cannot confirm at this time any other further information, only that they were walking when the attack occurred.”

 

Read in ful below:

DPB: April 10, 2013  1:06 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Good afternoon. I have one thing at the top. On a somber note, I would like to provide an update on the State Department personnel who were injured in Saturday’s attack in Qalat, Afghanistan. In addition to those tragically killed, four Department employees were injured as the party was moving on foot a short distance to a school, wearing personal protection gear and under escort of U.S. soldiers.

With the family’s permission, I can confirm that Kelly Hunt, who was a Public Affairs officer with Kandahar Airfield Regional Platform-South in southern Afghanistan, was wounded and has been medevaced to Germany, where she is receiving the best possible medical care. Secretary Kerry spoke with Kelly’s father on Saturday and with her mother yesterday and conveyed his sympathy to the family during this difficult time.

Two employees with less serious wounds are receiving ongoing treatment at NATO-ISAF medical facilities in Afghanistan. The fourth employee was treated for more minor injuries and has been released. Out of respect for these employees and their families’ privacies, those are all the details we can offer on the injured.

And just to reiterate what Kelly and her colleagues were doing in Zabul Province on that day, it was – they were going to bring children’s books in Dari and Pashto to a school as part of an Embassy-funded program in cooperation with the Afghan Ministry of Education to promote literacy and provide teacher training. Afghanistan’s literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world, and through a cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy has distributed 1.9 million books to 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and provided training for their use in classrooms. So, as Secretary Kerry noted in Istanbul, this team was helping the children and educators of Afghanistan build a better future.

[…]

QUESTION: I’d like to go back to Afghanistan —

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — because the initial reports about this incident were that they were in a convoy, and now, as you said, it’s clear they were on foot. What can you tell us about the circumstances of the actual attack and why the story’s changed?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then also, was this – is this changing the way that you guys are thinking about operating in Afghanistan in general?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks for the question, Michele. I think part of the initial confusion came about because there were reports in the media about the local governor and his convoy. And so some of our initial reporting also indicated that, and that’s why we weren’t able to clarify right away. So our initial read on it was different, and we’re now able to say that it was a convoy and they were walking.

In terms of all the rest of what happened that day, it’s still under investigation, so I don’t have a lot of other details to provide. But we are able to clarify at this point that they were in a walking movement from the PRT down to the school down the road. It appears that this convoy of the governor was right there at approximately the same spot when it occurred, but again, this remains under investigation.

In terms of our security for our personnel in Afghanistan, I’d really refer you to the Embassy for their posture, but obviously, we continually review our security. We don’t necessarily advertise exactly what precautions we’re taking, but when there’s a serious incident of this nature we review all of our procedures.

QUESTION: But does it make you think twice about doing – I mean, this is a public diplomacy thing.

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: You could’ve delivered books quietly and not with a big show like this.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re —

QUESTION: Does it make you think twice about doing that?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re going to continue our mission and assisting the Afghan people. I can’t specifically say how we’ll change any of our programming based on this incident. But the Secretary was clear, we’re going to continue in our mission in Afghanistan to help the people of Afghanistan. And this clearly, helping them in their literacy programs, is a vital program that will continue.

QUESTION: But it would be fair to say that you’re reviewing your security procedures and how you do the – implement these type of programs as a result?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve absolutely reviewing after this incident.

QUESTION: Sorry. You said they were walking from the PRT to the school?

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: And what kind of distance was that?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know the exact distance, but we’re – this is in yards, not – it was a short distance down the road. So it happened very close to the PRT.

QUESTION: And then it was characterized as it was a big show. Was there some kind of ceremony that was going on?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know the whole details of how that day’s book presentation was going to go, but I do believe we had Afghan media.

QUESTION: Is that why the governor was there?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure about the governor’s participation. I’m not sure if he was going at the same moment to go – again, this is all under investigation. These are just some of the information that we’re able to share at this time.

QUESTION: Could you confirm there were two suicide bombers?

MR. VENTRELL: I cannot confirm at this time any other further information, only that they were walking when the attack occurred.

 

— DS