An Illinois woman has been identified as one of five Americans killed in an attack in southern Afghanistan Saturday. She is the first U.S. diplomat to die in the line of duty since Benghazi.
Anne Smedinghoff, a 25-year-old Foreign Service officer, died Saturday. Her group was traveling to donate books to students when it was struck by an explosion.
The Chicago-area woman is the first American diplomat to die on the job since the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that Smedinghoff was "vivacious, smart" and "capable."
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Smedinghoff's parents, Tom and Mary Beth, said in an emailed statement to The Washington Post that their daughter was "always looking for opportunities to reach out and help make a difference" for those in the war-torn country.
She previously served in Venezuela.
Smedinghoff's family wrote, "The world lost a truly beautiful soul today."
"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.”
"It was a great adventure for her ... She loved it," Tom Smedinghoff told the Associated Press in an interview later Sunday. "She was tailor-made for this job."
He said family members would tease Anne about signing up for a less dangerous location, maybe London or Paris. "She said, `What would I do in London or Paris? It would be so boring.'"
Kerry was emotional Sunday as he spoke of Smedinghoff's death.
"I think there are no words for anybody to describe the extraordinarily 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," he said.
The secretary called Smedinghoff's family in Pennsylvania to express his condolences.
Smedinghoff was killed along with three U.S. soldiers and a civilian Pentagon employee. They were in a convoy of vehicles in Zabul province when the blast occurred, Kerry said in.
Provincial governor Mohammad Ashraf Nasery was in the convoy, but was unharmed, local and NATO officials said.
"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," Kerry said in his statement.
The convoy was near a hospital and a NATO base at the time of the explosion. Five Afghans, including a student and two reporters, were wounded, a local official said.
The attack came as the top U.S. general, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in the country for a short visit to assess how much training Afghan troops need before U.S. troops pull out as planned by the end of 2014.
In an attack in Afghanistan's east, an American civilian working with the U.S. government was killed during an insurgent attack, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
Also Saturday, 11 children and a woman were killed by an airstrike during a NATO operation targeting Taliban commanders in eastern Afghanistan, officials in the region said.
Civilian deaths have been a long-running source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his international backers. Karzai has forbidden Afghan troops from calling for air strikes and NATO advise crews not to fire at or bomb in populated areas.
Six insurgents - two of them senior Taliban leaders - were killed during the operation in a village in Shigal district in Kunar province, which is on the Pakistani border, on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The Interior Ministry did not mention any civilian casualties but Wasefullah Wasefi, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said civilian homes had been hit during an air attack.
"Eleven children and a woman were killed when an air strike hit their houses," Wasefi said. A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Captain Luca Carniel, said they were aware of reports of civilian casualties and was assessing the incident. Carniel said ISAF had provided "air support" during the operation but he said there had been no ISAF troops on the ground. The air strike had been requested by coalition forces, not their Afghan allies, he said. A Reuters journalist saw bodies of 11 children when they were taken to Safai's office in protest by their families and other villagers on Sunday.