Bomb Explodes Outside US Consulate Erbil in Northern Iraq, ISIS Claims Attack (Updated)

Posted: 9:24 am PDT
Updated: 10:41 am PDT
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Media reports say that a car bomb went off at 5:40 pm local time in front of the U.S. Consulate General in Irbil, in northern Iraq today.  An unnamed senior State Department official told ABC News it was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). Other reports say the target was the local cafe near the consulate. The AP reports that no consulate personnel or local guards were wounded. There are local casualties but the number has not been officially released. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero in Iraq reports that “the entrance to the consulate appeared to have been struck by a bomber on foot.”

U.S. Consulate Erbil (Irbil) is headed by FSO Joseph Pennington who assumed his duties as Consul General in northern Iraq in July 2013.

 

 

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US Embassy Beirut Marks 30th Anniversary of Embassy Bombing in Ain El Mraise

Today, the US Embassy in Lebanon gathered at the Embassy in Awkar to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Embassy bombing in Ain El Mraiseh on April 18, 1983.

The incident’s entry in Wikipedia says that the car bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber driving a delivery van packed with about 2,000 pounds (910 kg) of explosives at approximately 1:00 pm (GMT+2) April 18, 1983. The van, originally sold in Texas, bought used and shipped to the Gulf, gained access to the embassy compound and parked under the portico at the very front of the building, where it exploded.

Image from US Embassy Lebanon/FB

Image from US Embassy Lebanon/FB

Excerpt from Ambassador Maura Connelly‘s remarks:

We are here today to remember our colleagues who were taken from us 30 years ago today, in a terrible bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Ain el-Mreisseh.  A huge bomb exploded in front of the embassy and sheared off a large part of the building.  52 staff of the U.S. mission died that day; many others were wounded.  For those who lost their lives, the story was finished.  For those who survived, years of loss and grief and trauma and hardship and recovery followed.  Some of you here today are among those survivors.  I remember our destroyed embassy often:  when I pass the site along the Corniche or sometimes when I enter our compound here through the barriers designed to defend against another truck bombing, I remember those whom we lost.  I know the survivors and the families of the victims remember that awful day every day and they always will.
[…]

In 1983, the staff of Embassy Beirut came in peace but a terrorist group chose them as its target and killed 52 people.  But ultimately the terrorists failed.  Because Embassy Beirut re-established itself here, on this compound, and went back to work.  And when terrorists chose to attack us again in 1984, they found it was harder to kill us.  We went back to work again and we have worked hard ever since, day in, day out.  We come in peace every day and we always will.   In the end, the terrorists always fail.

1983 and 1984 were very hard years for us.  We suffered many losses.  And the losses haven’t stopped.

 

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Mission Afghanistan: USAID Sub-Contractors Killed in Kabul Suicide Attack

WaPo reports that today’s attack in Kabul was carried out by a suicide bomber who rammed a car packed with explosives into a mini-bus carrying foreign aviation workers to the Kabul International Airport.  At least 12 people died, including eight South Africans, three Afghans and a citizen of Kyrgyzstan. The report says the Afghan militant group, Hizb-i-Islami, claimed responsibility for the dawn attack and said it was carried out by a 22-year-old woman named Fatima. It also adds that suicide bombings carried out by women are extremely rare in Afghanistan, where few if any Afghan women drive cars.

Worst Take-Your-Kid-to-Work-Day ever
Photo and Caption via It’s Always Sunny in Kabul

VOA quotes Nelson Kgwete, a spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation:

“We understand from our mission in Islamabad that the eight South Africans were employed by a private aviation company,” said Kgwete. “At the moment the department has the complete list of all the names of the deceased. We are working on establishing contact with the next of kin and also ensuring that we ensure the necessary consular assistance to the families.”

A separate WaPo report says that many of the victims were contract personnel with Air Charter Service, a British-based company that provides services to the U.S. Agency for International Development and other organizations in Afghanistan.  The company’s website did not list its clients but the charter service reportedly has a contract with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to ferry USAID officials around Afghanistan.

These are deaths that will not even be counted when our war casualties are tallied. We may never even know their names. They are not Coalition soldiers or American civilians, they are foreigners in Afghanistan, third country nationals who work as contractors to a USAID contractor that is British-based.

The US Embassy in Kabul released the following condemnation statement:

Condemnation of Suicide Attack in Kabul
September 18, 2012

The U.S. Embassy condemns, in the strongest terms, the suicide bombing that took place this morning near Kabul International airport, killing at least 10 people and injuring several others, including members of the Afghan National Police. Many of the victims were contracted personnel of a private company providing services to USAID and other organizations in Afghanistan. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all of the victims, and we wish for a full recovery to the injured.

 

The embassy didn’t know how many of them provided services for USAID, only that many of them did. I don’t know why I find that distressful.  For 2012 alone, the US Embassy in Kabul has already issued 25 condemnation statements, an average of two a month and it’s just September.

Our blog pal, El Snarkistani in It’s Always Sunny in Kabul lists 5 reasons why this latest suicide attack is a big deal, and in his words, “frighteningly different from the norm here in the Emerald City”:

[T]o review: a) actions by the insurgency are dramatically altering ISAF strategy, b) the insurgents are able to kill foreign civilians in the capital, and c) they’re able to destroy ISAF’s most valuable asset, its airpower.

Thus, if negotiations do occur anytime soon, it’s because the insurgency brought the bigger stick. And if there’s an olive branch involved, they probably impaled the dove on it. Think more Brando’s Don, less Kingsley’s Gandhi.

If this is a weakened insurgency, I’d hate to see what a strong one would look like.

Read his full post here.

USCG Peshawar: Robert Reed Assumes Charge as Consul General

The new Consul General for the USCG Peshawar arrived last month and has assumed charge.  This is one officer who did not just do one week of crash and bang at some Virginia farm.

Robert Reed joined the U.S. Department of State in 1985. His first assignment was in the Diplomatic Security Boston Field Office. He was then transferred to Secretary George Shultz’s protective Detail in 1987, where he served as a Supervisory Agent.

In 1989 he was assigned as an Assistant Regional Security Officer at American Embassy Bonn, Germany followed by a tour in Bamako, Mali, where he served as Regional Security Officer (RSO).  In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he served for three years as RSO followed by an additional year as the Haitian Presidential Security Advisor to then President Rene Preval.  After Haiti, Mr. Reed was assigned to Kingston, Jamaica as RSO.

From 2002 to 2006, Mr. Reed was the RSO in London, UK.  In 2006 Mr. Reed served in Iraq, as Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader for Karbala and Wasit Provinces.  Following a tour as RSO Moscow from 2007 to 2009, he returned to Iraq as the Senior Regional Security Officer, overseeing the U.S. State Department’s largest security program.  Prior to his current assignment as the Consul General in Peshawar, Mr. Reed served as the Senior Olympic Security Coordinator, managing the protection of Team USA for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Team USA came out of London without a security hitch. And he gets a promotion to one of the most dangerous assignments in the Foreign Service. But given what happened to USCG Peshawar yesterday, we are pleased that an experienced officer like Mr. Reed is at the helm of this post that has been under siege for the last several years.

Click on photo to view video greeting.

The 2012 Crime and Safety Report has this to say about Peshawar, Pakistan:

The U.S. Department of State rates Peshawar and surrounding areas as “high” for crime, but  the overall security environment in Peshawar is inextricably linked to the “critical” terrorist threat that touches all aspects of life for expatriates and locals alike in Northwest Pakistan.  Local authorities do not keep reliable crime statistics, and tracking incremental changes in the crime and safety situation is difficult.  However, following the Abbottabad raid in May 2011 and the November 2011 Mohmand cross-border incident, anti-American sentiment and continued extremist activity continue to render Peshawar one of the world’s most challenging security environments for westerners.   The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has fallen compared to prior year figures, but attacks continue  to occur, particularly against commercial targets and local government facilities.
[…]
In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assult.  In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked via Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in the “University Town” neighborhood in Peshawar where the city’s relatively few western-affiliated offices and residences are located.

The September 3, 2012 car bomb attack on USCG Peshawar’s vehicle is just the latest in the persistent targeted attacks of the US presence in Peshawar. We were looking at the YouTube footage below of the mangled vehicle left from the bombing and we are still awestricken that the passengers got away with non-life threatening injuries.  See USCG Peshawar: Suicide Car Bomb Targets Consulate Car, Wounds Four Staff and More (Updated)

Via Al Jazeera:

The 2010 OIG inspection report called Peshawar the most dangerous Foreign Service post in the world, and the 2012 CFR did not dispute that characterization.  According to the May 2012 CFR, Peshawar is also seriously disadvantaged by the fact that it is viewed through the prism of Islamabad, rather than in its real context as “Afghanistan’s near abroad.”

“This optic understates the realities of both living and security conditions, which are more in line with those in Baghdad and Kabul. It also means that that compensation and benefits afforded to those in Peshawar are not in line with those living in comparable conditions in nearby Afghanistan.”

We wrote this piece last week before the latest attack occurred.  We have since learned that the two Americans and two Pakistanis wounded in the vehicle attack are all part of the Diplomatic Security (Regional Security Office) at USCG Peshawar.

Our thoughts are with them, and we hope for their speedy recovery.

Domani Spero