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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US Mission Afghanistan: Public Diplomacy Officer for Kandahar, Kelly Hunt Wounded in Zabul

On April 8, knoxnews.com reported that two casualties from the April 6, 2012 attack in Zabul, Afghanistan came from East Tennessee. The news site sourcing family members confirmed the identities of  Army Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward of Oak Ridge who was killed during the attack  and Kelly Hunt, a 33-year-old public diplomacy officer assigned in Kandahar for the State Department, who was wounded in the same incident. (see photos via knoxnews.com)

On April 9, knoxnews.com noting that details of the attack are still vague, reported  that Ms. Hunt who worked previously as a News Sentinel staffer headed into “surgery again” citing information from family members. She reportedly is in a medically induced coma at a military hospital in Germany.  This is probably the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

According to her LinkedIn Account, Ms. Hunt joined the State Department last year and has been the public diplomacy officer in Kandahar since July 2012.

“As a public diplomacy officer for the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, I serve as the RC-South Ambassador’s PD officer and the civilian PD liason for military command. Help design key leader engagements for the Senior Civilian Representative – the Ambassador for RC-S; report daily to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul during crisis communication events; write talking points, speeches and readouts for KLE interactions, roundtables with Afghan journalists and interviews with international media; highlight and plan media events to disseminate Afghan news to the international community; serve as the military’s counterpart for a variety of topics; and act as a PD grants officer representative for various RC-S PD grants, proposing grants that will have an enduring and stabilizing impact on the region for years to come while ensuring the grantees stay on budget and on task.”

News reports so far indicate that four other State Department staffers, including Ms. Hunt, were injured in the bombing, one critically.

We should note that Ms. Smedinghoff who was killed in the same attack was a public diplomacy officer working as the Assistant Press Attache at U.S. Embassy Kabul since last year. It appears right now that there were five State Department personnel delivering textbooks to a school in Qalat?

We have more questions than answers right now.  If anyone care to help answer some of those questions, please contact me here.

DOD has also released today the names of the troops who perished in Zabul for “wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit in Zabul, Afghanistan with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.”  The DOD release says that  they were assigned to the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia. Those killed were:  Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, of Juncos, Puerto Rico, and Spc. Deflin M. Santos Jr., 24, of San Jose, Calif.

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Updated:  Rewritten to provide only links to restricted knoxnews material.

 

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