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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Friends of Kelly Hunt Start Online YouCaring.com Fundraiser for Hunt Family

State Department Public Diplomacy Officer Kelly Hunt was wounded on the April 6, 2013 suicide attack in Qalat, Afghanistan. About a week after the incident that killed five Americans and seriously wounded Ms. Hunt as well as three others, and as she was moved to a hospital in Germany, her friends back home, Brian DeNicola, Regan Hildebrand, Becky Reindel, Jen Vinci, Beth Doyle-Hudson & Valerie Cizl decided to organize a fundraiser to support Ms. Hunt’s family.

“Becky met Kelly at work.  Brian and Regan met her through rowing.  Jen, Beth and Valerie knew her from elementary school.  She touched our lives in many ways and the last few days have been difficult for everyone.” 

On June 8, Regan will be climbing Mt. Rainier in Seattle, Washington.  He was originally going to climb the mountain for fun.  In light of Kellly’s accident, he’s now climbing Mt. Rainier for her and will stand on the summit on June 12 for Kelly. 

The fundraiser located at you caring.com – http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/climbing-for-kelly/52529 – had $1,000 for its original funding goal. As of this writing, the fund has raised $7093 from 114 supporters across the Foreign Service, EPA, colleagues in Afghanistan, folks from the University of Tennessee and the News Sentinel newsroom, and from friends and friends of friends.

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Over in FB,  the Kelly Hunt’s Road to Recovery page also put together by friends provided a link to the fundraiser with the following note:

We have been contacted by so many wonderful people across the world who are interested in donating to Kelly’s family in order to help ease the costs associated with traveling to see her when she arrives at Walter Reed, and other costs that arise during this time. Please visit the page below if you would like to contribute financially. All proceeds will go directly to the family. Thank you!  

Ms. Hunt’s mother, Dinah told us that the help organized by friends “will allow us to be with our daughter.”  If you are want to help, check out the youcaring page here.  If you want to send messages of support to the Hunt family and/or follow her recovery, you can check the Kelly Hunt’s Road to Recovery in Facebook where her mother provides regular updates on Kelly’s condition including the following:

I know that people in the DC area are eager to see Kelly, however, it won’t be possible for quite awhile. She’s in intensive care right now.  I want to thank everyone for their prayers and words of encouragement. They are definitely helping our family to cope. This is a marathon; not a race sprint and I appreciate your support.

We understand that a separate hometown fundraiser was also done by several friends of Ms. Hunt last April 20 at the Deja vu Nightclub in Lorain, Ohio (thanks JA!).

— DS

Remembering Anne Smedinghoff: In lieu of sending flowers …

The Remembering Anne Smedinghoff website went online the last few days. It includes the statement from her parents, Tom and Mary Beth, and  asked that representatives of the media continue to respect the privacy of the family during this time.

According to the website, her final journey will be on Wednesday, April 17 at St. Luke Catholic Church in River Forest, Illinois.  In lieu of sending flowers, the family asked that you consider supporting four organizations that work in Afghanistan:

The Smedinghoff family has been touched by the outpouring of support from people around the world looking for ways to help continue Anne’s work. In lieu of sending flowers, we ask that you consider supporting organizations that are engaged in the same great work that Anne dedicated herself to so selflessly.

Visit Remembering Anne Smedinghoff for the names and links to the suggested organizations. The website also accept comments, so those who want to send their condolences to the family or share their memories of Ms. Smedinghoff may do so at http://annesmedinghoff.com.

 

— DS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zabul Attack: Were They Walking in a Red Zone?

In the early morning this past Sunday, a day after Anne Smedinghoff and four others were killed in Zabul, Afghanistan, I received an untraceable anonymous note that she was walking, and was not in a vehicle when she was killed.  The four-sentence tip alleged that she was with Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, the American Senior Civilian Representative (RC-South) in Kandahar and asked a rhetorical question, “Will anyone be held accountable?  doubtful.”

Ambassador Addelton was formerly the U.S. ambassador to Mongolia.  The Senior Civilian Representative, in the embassy’s view is  “the co-equal of the military commander of that region rather than a member of his staff” (for more of that, see this).

So, what do you do with something like that? Do you ignore it or chase it down the rabbit hole? Does it really matter whether they were walking in a red zone or were inside a vehicle?  They’re still dead.

But it’s been bugging me quite a bit.

So I sent out emails asking questions. On Sunday, I sent an email to the top accountable civilian official in Afghanistan, Ambassador James Cunningham, and another to the embassy press office for comment. I never heard anything back.

But one email did come back.  One source in Kabul would not confirm or deny the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smedinghoff’s death.  The individual declined to provide details of the the attack (which may or may not mean anything, of course).  There was a concern 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.

While I could not confirmed that she was walking in a red zone when the attacked occurred, she was a second tour junior officer with three years under her belt. I can’t imagine a JO telling the MRAP team to let her out because she’s going to walk, can you?


What we know from news report:

  • The attack occurred on Saturday, April 6 at around 11:00 in the morning in Qalat, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan.
  • The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber in a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) and one bomber with a suicide vest.
  • Three U.S. service members killed:  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.
  • Two U.S civilians killed: Anne Smedinghoff, FSO, a still unidentified DOD civilian
  • Four State Department staff wounded, one critically: Kelly Hunt, FSO (assigned in Kandahar) three still unidentified staffer.
  • Smedinghoff and Ward’s remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday afternoon.


The official story:

Via The Guardian: The attacker detonated a vehicle full of explosives in the centre of Qalat just as a US military convoy passed the provincial governor and his entourage. The blast killed and seriously injured several people from both groups.

Via WSJ: A senior provincial official in Zabul said insurgents targeted a convoy carrying Gov. Ashraf Nasari, who was on his way to the ceremony at the local school. Zabul provincial police chief Ghulam Sakhi Rogh Liwanai said a bomb-laden Suzuki automobile was parked outside the provincial hospital to target the governor’s convoy. Around the same time the car bomb went off, the police chief said, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest.

Via USAToday:  Officials said the explosion Saturday came just as a coalition convoy drove past a caravan of vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul province to the event at the school.

Via WaPo: There is no greater contradiction, Kerry said, between Smedinghoff’s zeal to “change the world” and help others and a bomber who he said drove a car into their vehicle.

Via State Department – Secretary Kerry:

“And someone somehow persuaded that taking her – his life was a wiser course and somehow constructive, drives into their vehicle and we lose five lives – two Foreign Service, three military, large number wounded, one Foreign Service officer still in critical condition in the Kandahar hospital because they’re trying to provide people with a future and with opportunity.”

A retired FSO quoted in WaPo says:

“She was well-protected, so the lesson here is there is no ‘zero risk,’ ” said Daniel P. Serwer, a retired Foreign Service officer in Bosnia and Kosovo and now a professor of conflict management at SAIS.

But what if she wasn’t well-protected? Now, I understand this is a war zone and they must make calculated risks. But …


What we don’t know:

Was she walking with others when they were hit? No one in an official capacity is willing to answer that question (I missed this one – but, knoxnews.com reported that ” Family members have said [Kelly] Hunt was walking with Smedinghoff when the bomb went off.” – thanks TSB!)

Why is the State Department saying that they were killed when their vehicle was hit if they were not inside the vehicle?

If true that they were walking, who gave the order that they should walked in a red zone?

What is considered acceptable risk in a red zone if you’re conducting public diplomacy work?

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What happened to the Afghan journalists who were reportedly being escorted to Qalat?

If they were inside an MRAP when they were attacked — does that mean an MRAP and a suicide vest together can kill  a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) which apparently is the vehicle of choice in Qalat? I’m sure somebody who knows more than I do about the types of MRAPs used in the south will pipe in.  Here is one type, not sure this is the kind used in Qalat on April 6.

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Were there debris of the convoy in the immediate aftermath of the attack?  The AP had a brief video online, and pics — how many disabled MRAPs can you see there?

Wired Magazine once had this piece about the MRAP talking about its virtues:

One of the main virtues of the MRAP lies in its hull. Shaped like the letter V, it disperses the blast from homemade bombs that other trucks absorb — and which kill and wound the troops inside. Soldiers and Marines who rode in them in Iraq and Afghanistan reported that sometimes they didn’t even realize they had rolled over one of the bombs.

And do you remember General Frank Helmick?

According to Military Times, on August 24, 2008 Helmick survived a suicide bombing of the MRAP vehicle he was riding in near Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul. The suicide car bomb attack killed the attacker and damaged the International MaxxPro Plus vehicle, but Helmick, Brigadier General Raymond “Tony” Thomas, an Iraqi general and others inside the vehicle were not seriously injured.

Something doesn’t add up, see?

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So, is there a story here somewhere or should we ignore it because anonymous sources don’t count,  and because people die in the war zone all the time?

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RIP Anne Smedinghoff: Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.

I don’t know why I was bothered when Secretary Kerry refrained Saturday from naming Ms. Smedinghoff in his statement on her passing (if it did not bother you, that’s okay).  Perhaps I should blame it on OC, perhaps not. But one only die once … I was looking for an appropriate acknowledgement of the sacrificed made in Zabul on Saturday.

The attack occurred on Saturday, April 6 at around 11:00 in the morning in Afghanistan. That’s about 2:30 am in Washington, D.C.  About ten hours after the attack, around noon in WashDC, the State Department released a statement from Secretary Kerry without naming the diplomat killed in Zabul Province of Afghanistan.

How do you properly acknowledge in public the sacrifice of somebody when she is but a third person singular pronoun?

She was everything a Foreign Service officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve, and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future.

An older version of the WaPo report, no longer online says that the State Department did not identify the deceased to give the family time to notify other family members.  But if that were so, why did State release a statement in a rush instead of waiting until the following day? Was the need to put out a statement ten hours after her death so urgent that it was deemed acceptable to reduced her to a pronoun?

State could have waited until Sunday to released a complete official statement, but it did not. The last time a civilian employee was killed in Afghanistan was on August 8, 2012.  On August 9, then Secretary Clinton released a statement on USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah.  When four Americans died in Benghazi, the official statement which identified Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith came a day after the attack, but two casualties were not identified until much later.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s parents released a statement about their daughter late Saturday.

Secretary Kerry was in Istanbul on Sunday when he publicly identified Ms. Smedinghoff for the first time:

“And I think there are no words for anybody to describe the extraordinary harsh contradiction of a young 25-year-old woman with all of the future ahead of her, believing in the possibilities of diplomacy, of changing people’s lives, of making a difference, having an impact, who was taking knowledge in books to deliver them to a school. And someone somehow persuaded that taking her – his life was a wiser course and somehow constructive, drives into their vehicle and we lose five lives – two Foreign Service, three military, large number wounded, one Foreign Service officer still in critical condition in the Kandahar hospital because they’re trying to provide people with a future and with opportunity.”
[…]
It is a confrontation with modernity, with possibilities, and everything that our country stands for, everything we stand for, is embodied in what Anne Smedinghoff stood for, a 25-year-old young woman, second tour of duty, been a vice consul in Caracas, Venezuela and then off to an exciting, challenging, unbelievable undertaking in one of the toughest places on earth.

I’ll come back to that in a separate post later.

Ms. Smedinghoff was on Twitter, on LinkedIn, also on Facebook. I was tempted to use her photo for this post, but it doesn’t seem right to use the photographs  from her social media accounts now that she’s dead and couldn’t object. Perhaps she wouldn’t have minded .. but what if she did mind … the dead cannot speak up … so I walked away from the photos.

Do you remember when you were 25?  When you were young and brave and full of wonder and hope about conquering the world of possibilities?

Death is never far away in the small Foreign Service community (see In the Foreign Service:  Death, Too Close An Acquaintance). Even if you and I do not personally know Anne Smedinghoff, as Cormac McCarthy writes, “The closest bonds we will ever know are bonds of grief. The deepest community one of sorrow.”

Since the beginning of 2013, excluding this latest attack, 24 Americans have died in Afghanistan, the highest total among coalition forces. The average age of those killed is 28.  Since 2001, there had been 3,279 deaths in Afghanistan. Of that 2,198 were  Americans.  On the same day that Ms. Smedinghoff was killed, a DOD civilian employee also was killed. And, in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan, a battle and airstrike left nearly 20 people dead, including 11 Afghan children and a U.S. advisor.

Herbert Hoover said that “Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.”  Sometimes you’re not even fighting, but still you die. And old men give speeches and get lost on the road to ending wars.

Then you read something like this: Leaving Corruptistan: Washington Favors Exit over Fight with Karzai. And you want to throw all your shoes at the somebodies. Is that infantile reaction? Well, probably yes, but you’ll do it anyway because not doing anything, anything at all, no matter how pointless just seem worse. And no, you’re not throwing your shoes because we’re leaving the sinkhole kingdom, er, republic …

 

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Below are some blog posts collected from around the Foreign Service on the passing of Ms. Smedinghoff.

 

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Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff’s Statement on Daughter Anne Killed in Afghanistan

Via WaPo’s Ernesto Londoño:

 The American diplomat killed Saturday was identified as Anne Smedinghoff by her parents. Smedinghoff was recently tasked with assisting Secretary of State John F. Kerry on his trip to Kabul.

Four other State Department officials who were with her, traveling to a school in the southern province of Zabul, were injured in the same bombing, one critically.

Read in full here.

Mr. Londoño also shared the statement from Ms. Smedinghoff’s parents, Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff e-mailed to the Washington Post:

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Statement from Tom & Mary Beth Smedinghoff 

The world lost a truly beautiful soul today. Our daughter, Anne, a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, died in the service of her country as she was traveling with a group to deliver books to a local school in the Zabul Province of Afghanistan. She joined the Foreign Service three years ago right out of college and there was no better place for her.

Anne absolutely loved the work she was doing. Her first assignment was in Caracas, Venezuela. She then volunteered for an assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which she began in July, 2012. Working as a public diplomacy officer, she particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with the Afghan people and was always looking for opportunities to reach out and help to make a difference in the lives of those living in a country ravaged by war. We are consoled knowing that she was doing what she loved, and that she was serving her country by helping to make a positive difference in the world. She was such a wonderful woman–strong, intelligent, independent, and loving. Annie, you left us too soon; we love you and we’re going to miss you so much.

To re-phrase the bard …

Take her and cut her out in little stars, 

And she will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night

And pay no worship to the garish sun.

— DS

 

 

 

 

Taliban Attack Kills US Diplomat, Three NATO Troops and Civilians in Zabul, Afghanistan

According to McClatchy, three NATO troops and two coalition civilians were killed Saturday in southern Afghanistan in a suicide bombing that also killed two Afghans and narrowly missed killing the governor of the province.  The attack reportedly came at about 11 a.m. in the Zabul provincial capital, Qalat, as a convoy carrying Gov. Mohammad Ashraf Nasery was passing the base of the local NATO provincial reconstruction team.

Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul vehicle crews maintain security while PRT engineers conduct a site survey of the on-going street drainage project in Qalat, Afghanistan, April 14. The PRT is comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel who work with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance, stability and development throughout the province. (Photo via ISAF/Flickr)

Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul vehicle crews maintain security while PRT engineers conduct a site survey of the on-going street drainage project in Qalat, Afghanistan, April 14. The PRT is comprised of Air Force, Army, Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel who work with the government of Afghanistan to improve governance, stability and development throughout the province. (Photo via ISAF/Flickr)

Both ISAF and the State Department cites the attack as an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. Some reports described it as a suicide attack.

The casualties are typically not named pending notification of their next of kin. We don’t know why the deceased diplomat is not named in this statement when Secretary Kerry had already spoken to her parents.

Our State Department family is grieving over the loss of one of our own, an exceptional young Foreign Service officer, killed today in an IED attack in Zabul province, along with service members, a Department of Defense civilian, and Afghan civilians. Four other State Department colleagues suffered injuries, one critically.

Our American officials and their Afghan colleagues were on their way to donate books to students in a school in Qalat, the province’s capital, when they were struck by this despicable attack.

Just last week in Kabul, I met our fallen officer when she was selected to support me during my visit to Afghanistan. She was everything a Foreign Service officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve, and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future.

We also honor the U.S. troops and Department of Defense civilian who lost their lives, and the Afghan civilians who were killed today as they worked to improve the nation they love.

I spoke this morning with our fallen Foreign Service officer’s mother and father and offered what little comfort I can for their immeasurable loss. As a father of two daughters, I can’t imagine what her family is feeling today, or her friends and colleagues.

I also have been in close touch with Secretary Hagel, the White House, and our senior management team at the State Department, including Deputy Secretary Burns, Undersecretary Kennedy, and Ambassador Cunningham in Kabul. We will all keep in close contact as we learn more facts about this attack and the brave people who were killed and wounded. We are also in contact with the families of those injured.

We know too well the risks in the world today for all of our State Department personnel at home and around the world – Foreign Service, civil service, political appointees, locally employed staff, and so many others. I wish everyone in our country could see first-hand the devotion, loyalty, and amazingly hard and hazardous work our diplomats do on the front lines in the world’s most dangerous places. Every day, we honor their courage and are grateful for their sacrifices, and today we do so with great sadness.

With thoughts and prayers to loved ones left behind and the wounded.  We will update this post when additional information becomes available.

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