US Mission Afghanistan Contractor Survives Taliban Car Bomb, Takes Photo, Quits Job, Goes on Reddit

Posted: 2:19 pm EDT



On January 4, two attacks were directed at USG personnel in Afghanistan (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan).  On January 5, the “I survived this yesterday, took a photo and then quit my job” thread went live on Reddit with user DanDalVlan, an Air Traffic Controller contractor in Afghanistan who survived the VBIED attack of a USG site near the Karzai International Airport.

He opened his Reddit thread with “Make money, they said. See the world, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 1706 points 1 day ago 

It was worth it, at first.  Even after the first attack I went through, it was worth it. After this, though? Nope. Big fucking nope. My entire room imploded around me in a surreal blur of glass and brick. If I had been standing instead of laying in bed, I wouldn’t be typing this. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 4895 points 1 day ago* 

Sorry, I forgot to put the story up. I was living at the compound that got attacked by a Taliban VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) that was inside of a very large truck. It rendered our compound pretty much useless. Luckily, we had no fatalities with mostly minor injuries (myself included). 

I was working as an Air Traffic Controller out there. The country of Afghanistan doesn’t have the infrastructure to control their own air traffic, so it is contracted out and I was one of those contractors.

Edit I’m editing this just to say that I’m falling behind on answering questions, but I’ll answer them as soon as I can.

2nd Edit I’m officially failing in my attempts to answer questions and reply as fast as they come in. Sorry if I have missed anyone.

3rd Edit I’ve tried replying to all the questions I could find. I’ve gotta stop now though so I can pack my dirty and glass-covered clothes and get on this flight out of here. I’ll try to respond more when I land. permalink

He was asked about how successful the Taliban has been in attempting to influence the region.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 3171 points 1 day ago

I’ll be honest, I’m not a very good source when it comes to that type of information. We live a VERY sheltered life. We go from secure facility to secure facility, with absolutely zero time spent amongst the local nationals. Unless things like this happen, we hear about stuff at about the same pace as the rest of the world, and with the same twists and biases. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. permalink

He was asked if entertainment is imported?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 250 points 1 day ago

Yes, luckily we were still able to get mail. I had quite the collection of board games that my friends and I would play. Then there’s internet/youtube, it’s extremely slow, but better than nothing.permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 261 points 1 day ago

We had booze.I’ll just leave it at that. permalink

He was asked about his Top Ten Favorite Boardgames.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 2 points 22 hours ago

Top 10 in no particular order: 1. Smash Up 2. Revolution 3. Catan 4. Ticket to Ride 5. Kingdom Death: Monster 6. Risk Legacy 7. Betrayal at House on the Hill 8. Rebellion 9. Munchkin 10. Dixit. I don’t usually like games that are “work together” games. They can usually just be played single player and they usually end up with one person “in charge” anyways. permalink

Another user said his relative was in Afghanistan as an air traffic controller about 5 years ago and didn’t think he ever ran into anything such as this though. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 102 points1 day ago

It’s been getting slowly worse ever since the “official” pullout last year. Usually the winter time is the quietest time since it’s very cold. This year, however, they have been unexpectedly active. permalink

One Reddit user write the question in the American public’s mind: what we are are trying to achieve in a country long known as the graveyard of empires.  “How will Afghanistan come to control their own air traffic in the future if US contractors are doing it all? Is there movement towards Afghanis ever taking it over? Is the US working towards that end, or is this about supplying Americans with jobs? I’m trying to understand what it is we’re trying to achieve there.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 58 points1 day ago

Short answer is yes, we are working towards that. We are currently training a handful of Afghanis. However, they have to learn English as well as all the complicated rules governing ATC. They will not be completely taking over anywhere in the foreseeable future. permalink

He was asked how close he was to the VBIED that blow up the compound”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 150 points 1 day ago

My room was the closest room to it for our building. Probably about 200 feet.permalink

Somebody wanted to know if the bomb ruptured his ear drums?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 26 points 23 hours ago

No, I kind of felt it coming before anything else and I opened my mouth to avoid having my eardrums pop. permalink

Another user cited a most appropriate use of this video: NSFW Lyrics

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 181 points 1 day ago

That was absolutely amazing and almost entirely accurate. The only difference being that I didn’t really have much of anything left to grab. I’m just glad I have renter’s insurance. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 122 points1 day ago

I have my ID and passport and some clothes. Everything else is pretty much toast. I’m most sad about my boardgame collection.

He was asked if it is “good pay for risking your neck?”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 193 points1 day ago

It was before, now it’s not even close. To be clear, the pay didn’t change, my perspective did. permalink

One Reddit user says, “I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, but your still probably in shock from it all, but remember, PTSD is real. I strongly recommend, when you are ready, a therapist. Someone who you can brain dump it all out. Everyone handles near death experiences differently. I was a medic, and addict/alcoholic, and I am one of those whom never got help, and it nearly killed me. I don’t mean to impose any fear or anxiety on you, I just say from personal experience.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 11 points21 hours ago

That’s actually why I did this. So I could share and talk about it.permalink

The Reddit post was submitted on January 5.  It currently has 2605 comments, and 5,867 points (96% upvoted). The photo submitted in the aftermath of the attack is here.


According to SIGAR, since 2004, FAA—primarily through the Office of the Transportation Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—has received $56.5 million from State and USAID to train Afghan civil aviation personnel, assist the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in developing its regulatory regime, and improve Kabul International Airport’s infrastructure and services. There’s more:

Due to difficulties associated with developing Afghan capacity for managing the civil aviation system, FAA officials and coalition forces concluded that effective future operation of Afghan airspace would require the development of a third-party contract for providing airspace management services. Accordingly, in 2013, FAA and coalition forces assisted MOTCA in preparing a contract that included provisions requiring the contractor to train Afghan personnel, similar to the structure of the Afghan-centric aviation security contract.
The United States planned to transition airspace management responsibilities back to the Afghans at the end of 2014, but, partly due to a lack of certified air traffic controllers, that did not occur.[…] Due to the potential for air service disruption, the Department of State funded an interim, DOD-managed contract for $29.5 million to provide the services through September 2015. If a follow-on contract is not awarded before this contract expires, the United States could be called on to fund another interim contract.




US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan

Posted: 5:19 pm EDT


In December 2015, the US Embassy in Kabul warned of an “imminent attack.”  On January 4, 2016, the US Embassy in Kabul issued a security message that the embassy has received reports that an explosion has taken place in the vicinity of Airport Circle in Kabul at approximately 11:00 a.m. local time and indicated that mission personnel have been advised to avoid the area. The same day, NBC News reported that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a compound for civilian contractors near the Kabul airport on Monday, a senior security official said, hours after another suicide bomber blew himself up. A convoy of U.S. embassy guards who live at Camp Sullivan was targeted in the second attack, the official said, but none of the guards were injured.

Camp Sullivan is a 20.9-acre property located near Kabul International Airport. It sits about 2.14 miles from the main embassy compound.





Remembrances Around the Foreign Service on Memorial Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. It was was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  It is observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May.

Excerpt from General Logan’s 1868 order:

All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

Below are some photos from US missions marking the day of remembrance overseas:

US Embassy Manila, Philippines

Memorial Day 2011:  An American boy plants American and Philippine flags beside a cross that marks one of the 17,000 graves in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City on May 28 as part of the U.S. observance of Memorial Day. On May 29, U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. led representatives of the American community and guests in a ceremony at the Memorial to pay tribute to the soldiers of the U.S. and its allies who have fallen in defense of freedom and democracy. The 152-acre cemetery and memorial in Manila has the largest number of graves of U.S. soldiers who died in World War II. The graves include those of 570 Filipinos who served with the U.S. Forces in the Southwest Pacific.

Memorial Day, May 27, 2012.  Chargé d’Affaires Leslie A. Bassett offers a wreath in honor of all Veterans this Memorial Day, at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City, Philippines.
(Photo from US Embassy Manila)

US Embassy Montevideo, Uruguay

May 31, 2010. A U.S. Marine replaces a worn out flag at the grave site of a young sailor, honoring fallen U.S. servicemen buried at the British Cemetery in Montevideo [U.S. Embassy photo by Vince Alongi]

US Embassy Djibouti, Djibouti

Mike Lombardo, regional security officer for U.S. Embassy, Djibouti, gives the opening remarks during a Ceremony at Cimetiere non Mulilman de Djibouti, May 31. The Memorial Day Ceremony honored Pilot Officer Lawrence Maguire, an American who volunteered for the Canadian air force, one of the many military members who gave their lives during World War II. Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett

US Embassy Tunis, Tunisia

U.S. Army Col. Warren P. Gunderman, a military representative at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, lays a wreath Monday during a Memorial Day service at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial near Carthage, Tunisia. Photo by US Army Africa

US Embassy Nassau, The Bahamas

US Embassy observed Memorial day with a Wreath Laying Ceremony at Clifton Pier. On Monday, May 31, 2010 the United States Embassy observed Memorial Day with a wreath laying ceremony at Clifton Pier in memory of fallen service men and women. Special recognition was given to the U.S. Patrol Squadron 23 Sailors, who perished off the coast of Nassau on May 7, 1954.

US Embassy Baghdad, Iraq

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Maj. Gen. Mark Zamzow, bow their heads during a moment of silence. Troops deployed to Iraq hold a Memorial Day ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Denny Cantrell | 05.26.2008

US Embassy Tallinn, Estonia

U.S. Embassy Tallinn Recognizes Memorial Day – May 30, 2011
(Photo from US Embassy Tallinn/Flickr)

US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

Memorial Day, Kabul 2010
(Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

Plaque “In memory of Ambassador Adolp ‘Spike’ Dubs, Killed in Kabul on February 14, 1979”
(Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, DEA Regional Director Michael T. Marsac, program analyst Lisa Hostettler, Assistant Regional Director Craig Wiles and secretary Teresa Hernandez near a marker for DEA Special Agents Forrest N. Leamon, Michael E. Weston and Chad L. Michael at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, 2011. (Photo from US Embassy Kabul/Flickr)

US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

Memorial Day Service at Old St Paul’s, Wellington – May 30, 2011
(Photo from US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr)
Click here for slideshow

Memorial Day 2012 | This Memorial Day the people of Kapiti Coast on the North Island of New Zealand unveiled a memorial to the 10 U.S. sailors who died during a training exercise while trying to come ashore on June 20, 1943. About 350 people, including Charge d’Affaires Marie Damour and a U.S. Marine Color guard, were there for the dedication of the memorial, sculptured into the shape of a landing craft, close to the waters where the tragedy occurred. Read more here.
(Photo from US Embassy NZ/Flickr)

Something more to remember – below is a photo from Kabul, Afghanistan, April 10, 2006: The U.S. Embassy in Kabul renamed a camp in honor of Diplomatic Security Special Agent Eric Sullivan, who was killed on September 19, 2005, during a terrorist attack on his motorcade in Mosul, Iraq. Camp Sullivan is a self-contained facility for the local guard force that provides protection to all official U.S. facilities in Kabul. During Special Agent Sullivan’s career with the Diplomatic Security Service he volunteered to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq.

State Department photo

Domani Spero