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Family, friends mourn Anne Smedinghoff, diplomat killed in Afghanistan

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Updated: May 8, 2013 7:15AM

A west suburban woman who worked for the State Department in Afghanistan was in a convoy to deliver books to a school when she was killed in an explosion Saturday — becoming the first U.S. diplomat killed in the country since the war began in 2001, officials said.

Anne Smedinghoff, 25, of River Forest was one of six Americans to die in a pair of attacks Saturday. An Afghan doctor was also killed.

“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,” said her parents, Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff, in a prepared statement.

On Sunday, the street where her parents live was lined with small flags as their neighbors mourned Smedinghoff.

“This is a horrendous situation,” said Dr. Anabal Pepper, a neighbor who served in the Vietnam war. “We are so proud, but also very sad.”

Smedinghoff, who had a brother and two sisters, attended Fenwick High School in Oak Park and joined the foreign service after earning a degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Her first assignment was in Venezuela. Then she volunteered for the assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, and started her job there in July.

“Anne was intelligent, optimistic and looking forward to life,” said Rita Carter, an aunt.

Smedinghoff didn’t intend to become a diplomat when she went to college.

“I thought she might become a lawyer,” her aunt said.

She took the foreign-service exam because a friend did, Carter said.

“It was serendipity,” she said.

Smedinghoff didn’t dwell on the risks of her most recent foreign posting.

“I think living in Afghanistan is dangerous 24/7,” Carter said. “Anne downplayed it because this was how she was going to save the world.”

“I used to tease her about getting her to know all the Marines that guard the embassy,” Carter said. “She laughed at me. She sent me a picture in the fall of her and several Marines in flak jackets and said, ‘See, Aunt Rita. They are taking care of me.’ ”

Smedinghoff was on the track team in high school and enjoyed running, cycling and hiking, her aunt said. Just after college, she rode a bicycle from Baltimore to San Francisco to raise money for cancer research.

“She rode her bike from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea recently,” Carter added. “She didn’t do anything halfway.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said Smedinghoff “tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future.” He lauded her zeal to “change the world.”

Smedinghoff recently served as a guide for Kerry on his two-day visit to Afghanistan — considered an honor in the foreign service.

Colleagues paid tribune to Smedinghoff in online posts, calling her a “light in an otherwise dark world” and “a cheerleader and optimist in life’s darkest moments.”

Saturday’s attacks were the deadliest for the United States in Afghanistan in eight months. They came just days after insurgents stormed a courthouse, killing more than 46 people in one of the bloodiest attacks of the war.

Smedinghoff was traveling to donate books to students in a school in Zabul Province in southern Afghanisan.

Also killed in the convoy were a civilian working for the Defense Department, three U.S. military service members and an Afghan doctor. Four other State Department employees were injured, one critically, officials said.

A car bomb exploded as the convoy drove past vehicles carrying the governor of Zabul Province to the same event. Then, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest caused more casualties, according to news reports.

Another American civilian was killed in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack in Zabul and said the bomber was seeking to target either a coalition convoy or the governor.

“We were waiting for one of them,” Ahmadi said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It was our good luck that both appeared at the same time.”

Saturday’s deaths brought the number of foreign military troops killed this year to 30, including 22 Americans. The Washington Post reported that Smedinghoff was the first State Department diplomat killed in Afghanistan since the war began.

It was the deadliest day for Americans since Aug. 16, when seven American service members were killed in two attacks in Kandahar province — the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency. Six died when their helicopter was shot down by insurgents and one soldier died in a roadside bomb explosion.

The latest attacks occurred just hours after U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan to evaluate the level of training American troops can provide to Afghan security forces after international combat forces complete their withdrawal in 2014.

Contributing: AP

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