ISTANBUL – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mourned on Sunday the first death of an American diplomat on the job since last year's Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya.
Speaking to U.S. consulate workers on a visit to Istanbul, Kerry called the death of Anne Smedinghoff a "grim reminder" of the danger facing American foreign service workers serving overseas. The Illinois native was one of six Americans killed in an attack Saturday in Afghanistan. She was on a mission to donate books to students in the south of the country.
"It's a grim reminder to all of us... of how important, but also how risky, carrying the future is," Kerry told employees in the Turkish commercial capital.
"Folks who want to kill people, and that's all they want to do, are scared of knowledge. They want to shut the doors and they don't want people to make their choices about the future. For them, it's you do things our way, or we throw acid in your face or we put a bullet in your face," he said.
Kerry described Smedinghoff as "vivacious, smart, capable, chosen often by the ambassador there to be the lead person because of her capacity."
She aided Kerry when he visited the country two weeks ago, serving as his control officer, an honor often bestowed on up-and-coming members of the U.S. foreign service.
"There are no words for anyone to describe the extraordinary harsh contradiction for a young 25-year-old woman, with all of her future ahead of her, believing in the possibilities of diplomacy to improve people's lives, making a difference, having an impact" to be killed, Kerry said.
Smedinghoff previously served in Venezuela.
"The world lost a truly beautiful soul today," her parents, Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff, said in a family statement emailed to The Washington Post.
"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," they said. "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."
Kerry declared the protection of American diplomats a top priority on his first day as secretary of state.
The issue has been extremely sensitive since Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi almost seven months ago. No one has yet been brought to justice.