KABUL, Afghanistan — 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 on Monday 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.
The River Forest, Ill., native is the only State Department diplomat to die in the 13-year war in Afghanistan. On April 6, 2013, she was in Qalat, the tiny capital of Zabol province, on a mission to donate books to a boys’ high school, when a car bomb exploded as she and several other Americans and Afghans were walking a few hundred yards between the school and a U.S. base.
Smedinghoff, an Afghan American interpreter and three U.S. soldiers were killed, as well as an Afghan doctor. Four other Americans were wounded.
The death of the young diplomat — reportedly the first State Department official to die in Afghanistan since the 1970s — struck a chord with Secretary of State John F. Kerry. When Kerry visited Kabul just a few weeks before the bombing, Smedinghoff was chosen to be his “control officer,” his main guide and escort, an honor reserved for promising foreign service officers.
Smedinghoff joined the State Department after graduating from Johns Hopkins University and had completed most of her one-year assignment as a press officer in Kabul when she was killed. In a Twitter message on Sunday, Kerry paid tribute to a woman he called a “brilliant young idealist.”
Monday's ceremony came two days after Afghans voted in a crucial election to determine a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Despite Taliban threats of violence and fears of ballot fraud, the voting proceeded for the most part smoothly, with a higher-than-expected turnout of some 7 million out of 13 million eligible voters. Preliminary results are expected this week.
“This weekend, watching the extraordinary Afghan election, no one could mistake the incredible contribution the State Department and the United States government have made so that Afghans can control their own future,” Cunningham told more than 100 embassy employees who gathered in what was recently renamed “Anne’s Courtyard.”
Twitter: @SBengaliCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times