• Diplomacy Lost: State Does Not Come Clean on Afghan Death

    April 11, 2013

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    The initial reports about FSO Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan stated she was in an armored vehicle, which was hit by either an IED and/or a suicide bomber. She was enroute to a book give away at a local school. 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.

    New reports suggest a different picture. According to McClatchy News, Smedinghoff was accompanying a group of perhaps a dozen Afghan journalists, perhaps in the company of a minor U.S. Ambassador, and that the group was walking, not in vehicles. The report stated that:

    …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. Disoriented, he saw a car wheel roll past him.

    “At first I thought that a car had left the road and struck me,” he said. “But then I turned around and saw it had been a bomb.”


    That narrative differs significantly from the initial State Department version. Instead of a gallant young do-gooder snatched by fate, we see a group of diplomats who did not know what they were doing, physically lost, circling back to their camp to try again. If that is true, how did it happen? If that is true, why did State report a different version of events?

    Procedures

    My own Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) service was embedded with a U.S. Army unit and in Iraq, so procedures may vary, but we did our share of media events and book donations. Here is how things went and why it is hard to accept that the new discrepancies about Afghanistan are merely fog of war.

    Any movement outside the wire was planned meticulously. Excellent photographic maps were consulted, and a numerical grid location of our destination was established accurate down to (deleted) meters. Routes in and out were noted, with secondary routes established. Using maps and photos, we would decide where we would disembark our vehicles and how security would be kept. Medevac procedures would be reviewed, available air assets identified and so forth. Movement inside a war zone was a clear military operation. It was not free-lanced or improvised. Records were kept.

    If we did get off track, the unit went into defensive posture and nobody left the vehicles until we sorted that out. Lots of radio calls were made, and the Army’s electronic mapping and reporting system Blue Force Tracker was used. Our own headquarters always knew where we were and what we were doing. Log entries were made and records exist (some of what Bradley Manning leaked to Wikileaks consisted of such sitreps and Blue Force Tracker updates).

    If Smedinghoff and her compatriots got lost, it suggests they were not moving as just described. This calls up serious questions of competence and leadership. How did they get lost? What happened and who is responsible, because people died here.

    (Another opinion disclaims the idea that the group was “lost”)

    Reporting

    State’s mistakes in reporting what actually happened on the ground all seem to be mistakes in favor of State’s narrative– gallant young life taken even as she worked to help local Afghans– instead of incompetently lead public affairs hack engaged in another failed feel-good media event where they did not even know the location of the school being helped. How could this have happened? Fog of war?

    State reported the death (in vehicle) on April 6. State amended the story to mention the deceased was on foot on April 10 only after news reports were making the claim.

    My former job with State for 20 some years was as a Consular Officer and entailed, in part, dealing with the deaths of American Citizens abroad. I know how hard it can be to figure out what happened. Many of the deaths I assisted in sorting out happened in combat-like confusion following earthquakes, plane crashes and the like. There is chaos, but you are trained to work past that. Our training was very simple: you’re speaking officially on behalf of the USG to grieving next of kin. Tell them what you know and how you know it. Be very clear when things are unsure, uncertain or subject to change. Don’t fill in gaps, don’t make things up, be respectful but don’t try and “help” by covering up tough things (died autoerotically, was found with a weapon, was in a hotel room with a prostitute, etc.). If you don’t know something, say you do not know. Credibility is key and trust is earned and most of the real story will come out somehow.

    It is hard to imagine that the death of an FSO with multiple witnesses was not reported fully back to Foggy Bottom. This was the first “real” FSO killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan and post-Benghazi everyone knew it would be major news. Yes, others sadly were also killed but the death of a young woman with social media presence was obviously a greedy media’s lead. Nobody at State was going to just jot down a few notes on what may have happened and flash out a press release. There were multiple witnesses, and indeed the death occurred literally at the PRT’s doorstep. It would be very, very surprising if that front door was not covered by video surveillance. The source cited by McClatchy was treated by U.S. personnel and flown back to Kabul by the U.S., so was not hard to find.

    Conspiracy theorists, have at it. Or maybe it was all just journalistic fudges and fog of war.

    Instead, I will propose something baser and cruder: to the State Department, especially post-Benghazi, what mattered in the death of Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan was literal damage control of the already-failed narrative that the Department was accomplishing great things in Afghanistan under a policy of competent, calculated risk. The lives were lost of course no matter what the point or purpose, but it is typically owed to the dead the respect of not exploiting them even into the grave.

    Update: Diplopundit reports an email recieved from a Foreign Service Officer which reads “I knew Anne well. I am sending you this as the Department has been actively recruiting her friends and coworkers to talk to the press or to write about her even while no Department memorial service will be held.” Stay classy State.

    The People’s Republic of Snarkistan has a thorough write-up on what may have happened to Smedinghoff and her group well-worth reading. He also informs us that the school in question was built by the U.S. in October 2009, only to enjoy a $135,000 “rennovation” a few months later that included “foundation work, installation of new windows and doors, interior and exterior paint, electricity and a garden.” Yeah, looks like the original contractor ripped off the PRT. The U.S. Army noted at the time that “The many smiles on the faces of both men and women showed all were filled with joy and excitement during this special occasion.”

    In my own Iraq PRT experience, the record for the U.S. (re)building the same school was three times in four years.

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  • Recent Comments

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      1

      PVB, I’ve read this post just a few minutes ago, and immediately I was reminded of how the British Empire sacrificed (Australian) Harry “Breaker” Morant in the Boer War, a human sacrifice to keep the wartime propaganda unstained.

      Before his whitewashed execution, Lt. Morant cited some lines in the Gospel of Matthew, “A man’s enemies shall be those of his own house.”

      Based on eyewitness records, here’s the execution of Lieutentant Harry Morant, 1864-1902, a harbinger of the American Empire’s whitewashing of the death of Anne Smedinghoff:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI7KJnRlsS4

      04/11/13 4:28 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      2

      And further re all kinds of charnel-fodder for the Empire – (first the British, now the American Empire – there’s also this bit, about Gallipoli…

      …But first, you non-Aussies, please remember ANZAC Day is 25 April, the anniversary of when the Australians landed at Gallipoli in 1915. It’s Australia’s version of Memorial Day, but always remembered with a sense of tragedy and stupidity rather than glory:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38uvjuPcDAU

      04/11/13 4:38 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      As the Pat Tillman Story proved, it’s Cardinal sin but the war propaganda machine will exploit you in life and death.

      Anne’s parents should demand an investigation in this latest DS clusterfuck.

      04/11/13 5:39 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      4

      quote:”The initial reports about FSO Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan stated she was in an armored vehicle, which was hit by either an IED and/or a suicide bomber. …..

      New reports suggest a different picture. According to McClatchy News,…”unquote

      Wow. I should have known you would nail it PVB. I read it yesterday, and came this morning to comment on it. Low and behold.

      And without trying to sound condescending..WHUDDA FUCKING THUNK. DoS never ceases to amaze me at the level of stupidity. You’d THINK, the schmucks who release stuff to the press would have figured it out by now..THERE IS AN INTERNET! DOH!! What were they thinking? I can hear it now..”oh, we’ll just issue a contrived version of what happened and all will be well.”

      I got news for DoS. Not only are you goddamned liars..but MONUMENTALLY STUPID LIARS, Benghazi notwithstanding. However, STUPIDITY costs lives, and that is the whole point. Stupid videos is one thing, but setting up a scenario whereby even ONE person could be killed by virtue of DoS stupidity, is not just “unacceptable”, but CRIMINAL. And THAT is my second point. I see another Benghazi bullshit coverup in the makings.
      SOMEONE who ultimately was responsible for the safety of these people, CRIMINALLY fucked up, and DoS will do anything in their power to keep DoS from being held ACCOUNTABLE. Benghazi is living proof..ANYTHING..up to the Secretary of State pounding their fists in defiance of reality..yelling to Congress ..WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE!!

      Well let me clue you in DIMWITS. THESE PEOPLE WOULD STILL BE ALIVE..THAT’S

      Your criminal malfeasance at Benghazi SHOULD have served as a wake up call. B

      04/11/13 6:02 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      5

      damnit damnit danmit. I hit some key on my keyboard that automatically “submits” my post..BEFORE I was finished. That next to last sentence SHOULD have read:

      THAT’S WHAT DIFFERENCE YOU FUCKING MORONS.

      The last sentence SHOULD have read…

      But noooooooooooooooo. Now more people are dead..simply because of goddamned stupidity.

      04/11/13 6:08 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      6

      Btw..that story isn’t the only one McClatchy news broke..this one too.

      http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/04/09/188062/obamas-drone-war-kills-others.html

      Although, I think “whudda fucking thunk” is applicable here as well.

      04/11/13 6:14 PM | Comment Link

    • john brown said...

      7

      Re school renovations in Iraq, see my • “The Tangled Tale of 1,000 Iraqi Schools,” (The Washington Post, Sunday, August 31, 2003); Page B02
      http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1291&dat=20030904&id=z_5TAAAAIBAJ&sjid=5o0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=2845,1136673

      04/12/13 10:42 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      8

      The clueless young female FSO victim won’t be “waking up” but will her parents ever wake up and realize they had been suckered? Probably not. Chelsea and Mark aren’t running a school for Afghan girls at high risk. Why not? Well, because they learned early how to thrive in a rigged game from their monstrous parents and were wide awake by age fifteen. I

      04/12/13 1:16 PM | Comment Link

    • Death of an FSO: I Was the “W” Word and I Apologize | People's Republic of Snarkistan said...

      9

      […] Diplomacy Lost: State Does Not Come Clean on Afghan Death […]

      04/12/13 1:22 PM | Comment Link

    • Lafcadio said...

      10

      PVB: this is one of your best posts.

      NEVER EVER trust the State Department collective. Between incompetence and lying, you just won’t get the truth.

      04/12/13 5:09 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      11

      quote “Between incompetence and lying, you just won’t get the truth.”unquote

      Massive understatements notwithstanding.., DoS is simply an tentacle of the lying USG octopus and mimics whatever the head dictates. Unfortunately, given enough effort, lies will be exposed …
      http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/04/09/188062/obamas-drone-war-kills-others.html

      On another note, as of yesterday, Obama has officially earned the title..GREATEST LIAR IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE. Now that he’s caving on SS and Medicare..I do believe he’s set himself up for a big fall. I just hope he breaks his neck.

      04/12/13 7:03 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      12

      arrrrgggggggggrrrrrrrr….forgot to post the links..

      I voted for this piece of shit for this reason alone. He vowed never to touch SS/Medicare. Behold a liar of Biblical proportions..

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/chained-cpi-obama-democrats_n_3055343.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/11/obama-chained-cpi_n_3063841.html?ir=Politics

      04/12/13 7:11 PM | Comment Link

    • Michael Murry said...

      13

      Changing official stories from the Department of State only reinforce the deserved perception that officials of the U.S. government will lie, just to keep in practice; just so they won’t forget how.

      04/13/13 3:52 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      14

      quote:”….officials of the U.S. government will lie, just to keep in practice; just so they won’t forget how.”unquote

      Forget? Ha! I believe the axiom..”if their lips are moving…” kinda refutes that idea. 🙂

      04/14/13 1:40 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      15

      ps. along the lines of..GREATEST LIAR IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE…he just bagged another vote….

      http://my.firedoglake.com/acmerecords/2013/04/12/breaking-obama-justice-department-serves-oregon-officials-with-warrant-seeking-the-identities-of-all-the-states-medical-cannabis-patients/#respond

      youbetcha, his “low priority” thingy just became the raison d’être to fill all those empty Corporate prison beds..and I’m sure there’s enough Judges in Oregon who own stock in them to do it too.

      yesireebob..Team Kill Anything That Moves is striking a blow for Empire…at the behest of the BIG DRUG CLUB of course. You know..the one that the CIA works for…with franchises from Central America to Afghanistan..youbet..FREE ENTERPRISE at it’s murdering best.

      04/14/13 1:49 PM | Comment Link

    • Douglas Wissing said...

      16

      Peter–Great informative and incisive post. It is so demoralizing to see the same dysfunctional “development” patterns in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequent “truth deficit” that follows the inevitable failures. Your “We Meant Well” and my “Funding the Enemy” document the same toxic system.

      04/15/13 10:57 PM | Comment Link

    • Death of an FSO: I Was the “W” Word and I Apologize | It's Always Sunny in Kabul said...

      17

      […] Diplomacy Lost: State Does Not Come Clean on Afghan Death […]

      01/11/14 12:22 PM | Comment Link

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