May 24, 2024

Secretary Blinken at a Commemoration for the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Embassy Bombings in Tanzania and Kenya

Secretary Blinken at a Commemoration for the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Embassy Bombings in Tanzania and Kenya

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  Good morning, and welcome to the Department of State.  Ladies, gentlemen, distinguished guests, there are so many of you here I can’t single any one of you out, but we’re delighted to welcome you back here to what we hope you consider to be your second home.

I am honored and humbled to be with you all today as we remember those who lost their lives and were injured on August 7th, 1998.

To the families, we are so grateful that you are sharing your day of remembrance with all of us here at the department.  This day is a somber one for us, too, as we reflect on the loss and pain of the past 25 years.

I would like to recognize my good friends from Kenya and Tanzania, the ambassador from the – from Kenya, Ambassador Lazarus Amayo, and the ambassador from Tanzania, Elsie Kanza.  You stand in solidarity with us.  We remember the loss and pain you and your countrymen suffered as well.

Today we have a two-part program.  First, we will remember.  We will remember the tragic events of 25 years ago and honor those who were lost, injured, and deeply impacted.

Second, we will discuss resilience.  Our panel following the ceremony will discuss how the department has learned and grown to strengthen embassy security protocols, increase support for survivors, and equip the next generation with the tools to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

It is a great personal honor for me to introduce Ambassadors Bushnell and Lange, who frankly don’t need any introduction, but as you know were present on the day of the attacks.  Ambassador Bushnell was the U.S. ambassador to Kenya at the time of the bombing, and Ambassador Lange was the charge d’affaires in Tanzania.  We continue to benefit from their leadership and their support to the Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam communities.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR BUSHNELL:  Good morning.  Mr. Secretary, ambassadors, friends – 25 years ago, the Nairobi and U.S. embassy communities shattered when an al-Qaida-directed truck bomb blew up 218 neighbors and colleagues, injuring 4,000 more.  Jesse Aliganga, Julian Bartley, Jay Bartley, Rose Dalizu, Molly Hardy, Ken Hobson, Prabhi Kavaler, Arlene Kirk, Louise Martin, Michelle O’Connor, Sherry Olds, Tom Shah were loved ones of many here and part of my community.  Alongside 34 Kenyan colleagues who also died inside the embassy, they were striving to make a positive difference when they were cut down.

On the streets outside, thousands of Nairobi citizens, moms and dads, commuters, small business owners, secretarial school students, school children, either lost their lives or endured changing wounds forever.

The day after the bombing, our most critically wounded were going to be medically evacuated.  Teams of Kenyan and American colleagues were searching morgues, hospitals, and neighborhoods for our missing.  Nairobi citizens were still desperately crawling through the rubble for survivors of the collapsed Ufundi House.  We had learned of the bombing in Dar Es Salaam.

I was expected to be in three places at the same time, and for some reason the words of a former boss, Don Leidel, came into my brain: Take care of your people, and the rest will take care of itself.  That became my leadership mantra and strategy.  You see, I was the ambassador and chief of mission.  I had personal responsibility for the safety of U.S. Government employees outside of military command, and American citizens in country.  I tried.  My efforts to persuade senior decision makers in the department to relocate a chancery that did not meet our own security standards from a vulnerable location produced feedback – stop nagging – but little else.

At that time, department principals were keen to manage, to do things right, to stay within starvation budgets by waiving security requirements.  As chief of mission and community leader, I needed to lead, to do the right thing.  And so I kept pushing back.  Finally wrote the secretary of state.  Three months later we were blown up.  I would never have been able to face the people I face today, to have seen the pain, the sorrow, and the righteous anger of the families who lost, of survivors, victims, and many citizens in Nairobi had I not known that I did my leadership best.

And what did the people do who were supposed to take care of the rest?  They dug themselves out of the rubble, they re-created their organizations, they assisted others, they helped one another to heal, and they created the August 7th Memorial Park – a foundation, the names of your loved ones, our former colleagues, our neighbors are etched in stone in an oasis of green.  Their lives and their memories formed the mission purpose of the memorial, a place on which evil took place – but no more.  The mission purpose, because of those who died, is to be a symbol of hope, peace, and reconciliation.  What a difference they made.

Thank you.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR LANGE:  Thank you, Molly and Prue.  Secretary Blinken, Ambassadors, distinguished guests, in August 1998, those of at the U.S. Embassy in Dar Es Salaam were working with the Tanzanian Government to strengthen democratic institutions, spur economic growth, improve health and education, and promote regional stability.  It was the kind of work that the Foreign Service does every day, all over the world, and we were proud to represent the United States.

August 7th began as another beautiful day in Dar Es Salaam.  Then without warning a truck bomb with 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of TNT exploded on the street just outside the embassy.  Everyone here who was in Dar or Nairobi that day can remember the exact second the bomb went off.  And I was just talking today to Ambassador Kanza, who can remember where she was in the central bank where she was working at the time in Dar es Salaam.  Everyone remembers that.

For me, I remember I was in my office sitting on a sofa with my back against the outside wall.  And I remember – and I can still see it in slow motion – the glass from the window behind me blew over my head and landed on the people in front of me.  Thankfully, none of those – none of them were seriously injured because it was a Mylar plastic film on the glass, so it came in sheets rather than shards.  But 11 people perished in that bombing, and over 85 were injured.

The dead included the husband of an American Fulbright Fellow – Susan Hirsch — her husband, Jamal Abdalla died, Foreign Service national employees died, security guards and contractors died.  The embassy and nearly all nearby residences and office buildings were devastated.  As The New York Times described it: “The back of the embassy had been peeled away by the bomb.  Staircases hung… in the air, and concrete slabs blown from the building were strewn over the grounds.  Nearby cars had become steel skeletons.”

Our embassy, like the one in Nairobi, was far from meeting security standards.  We had only a 30-foot setback from the street.  No one working for the United States abroad should have to work in insecure facilities.  While it is comforting to know that many new, more secure embassies have been built since those tragic events in Dar and Nairobi 25 years ago, much more needs to be done.  Nothing is more important than protecting our people.

One of the most striking things about the response by the survivors – many of whom are with us here today – was how American personnel, their family members, and locally employed staff took on duties they were never trained or expected to do.  In Dar Es Salaam, we consoled the families of those who died and cared for the injured – several of whom were medically evacuated.  We set up an airport operation, arranged for hotel accommodations, and fed the 350 American TDY personnel who arrived to support us.  We re-established embassy operations in what had been the residence of the public affairs officer guarded by U.S. Marines.  And we worked with the Tanzanian Government and the FBI to assist in the investigation that led to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

And I know that many of those who were in Dar that day, and I assume that many of those were in Nairobi that day, subsequently suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.  I understand that there’s not – now an effort in Congress to increase the number of personnel in the Bureau of Medical Services who address mental health needs, and I think that’s long overdue.  I would hope that Med would do a mental health survey of current and retired employees and dependents who went through traumatic situations in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

For the victims of the 1998 bombings, it’s never been done.

One of the fundamental lessons that I draw from the bombings is how critical it is for the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies to recruit and retain top-notch career employees, train them properly, house them in secure facilities, and reward them for their service.

When the bomb went off, no one had the time to read the post’s emergency action plan under the tab “Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device.”  We responded by instinct based on years, often decades, of training and experience.  I look on all of the Dar and Nairobi responders as heroes, and none of us will ever forget that tragic day.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MS BARTLEY:  Good morning.  It is a privilege and honor for me to be here with you today.  As part of this historic commemoration, I serve as a voice for families directly impacted by the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa.  I was fortunate to grow up around the world as part of a Foreign Service family, even being born at our first post, the Dominican Republic.  My greatest joy, like most of you, is my family.  I’m eternally grateful to have here with us today my mother, Mary Bartley.  She’s a true pillar of strength and wisdom.  My late father, Julian L.  Bartley, Sr., a career diplomat, and my brother, Julian L. Bartley, Jr. an intern and college student, also were killed in the bombings.  My husband Stephen Rice and I are the proud parents of Alexandra Olivia Bartley Rice, our biggest – our family’s biggest blessing and my greatest joy.

Families from the embassy bombing are here today, and several gathered last night for dinner.  We thank you, Mr. Secretary, the African Bureau, and the senior leadership for embracing our families today and for making our requests for a special 25th commemoration a reality this year.

The near-simultaneous bombings of our embassies in East Africa were not only attacks on U.S. soil abroad, but they were attacks on humanity.  They were the precursor to 9/11.  Twelve selfless, brave Americans who represented the Foreign Service, Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, and other agencies were killed.  Many more Foreign Service nationals, also known as locally employed staff, were also killed.  Many people live with physical injuries, and others live with the pain and trauma of loss every day.  I think it is safe for me to say all families impacted want to ensure this day is never forgotten.

Please, would victims and survivors of terrorism, the injured and families of those, kindly, briefly please stand and be acknowledged?  Each of you and our families are part of the history and legacy of the State Department.  The legacy of our loved ones, colleagues, and friends killed should live on through each of us in a meaningful way.  Thank you.  Please be seated.

How do we do this important work?  We as citizens of this great nation must tell their story and preserve their earned place in history.  Our families carry the burden of telling the story of the bombing and of our loved ones, colleagues, and friends.  Our gathering today at this historic diplomacy museum is symbolic.  Mr. Secretary, thank you for making State Department personnel among your highest priorities.  Your presence today and the time you spend with us reflects your commitment to helping preserve this important chapter in State Department history.  Please help ensure that future secretaries of state do the same.

More than 8,000 Foreign Service employees work at U.S. embassies and other diplomatic missions.  We want to underscore to Congress the need to properly fund the State Department to carry out its mission safely and be able to care for its own when tragedy strikes.  The work has been and continues to be dangerous.  As long as there is instability in the world and democracy struggling to be formed, the dangers remain.  Diverse young professionals need to know about the important career opportunities at State and feel confident that the risk they take on is highly valued.  Newly minted Foreign Service officers and embassy personnel need to know their families will be taken care of and never forgotten if tragedy strikes.  The most precious asset of our U.S. embassies and consulates are the human personnel.

Thank you again, Mr. Secretary, for having us here today.  Now it is my honor to introduce our nation’s most senior diplomat.  He started his public service career at the State Department, and over the years he had the opportunity to serve as a staffer for the National Security Council, as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and later as deputy secretary of state.  A native New Yorker like my father, and one who has dedicated his life to public service, please join me in welcoming the Honorable Antony J. Blinken, our 71st U.S. Secretary of State.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good morning, everyone.  Edith, thank you for not just the overly kind introduction, but thank you for your incredibly powerful, sustained, consistent voice – a voice that resonates in this room, a voice that’s resonated in the halls of Congress, a voice that resonates in this department.  To you, to Ambassador Bushnell – John, to you as well – we’re so grateful for your presence here today.  It speaks volumes of your enduring dedication to some of the people in this room, to many who are not, but also to our institution because so much of this is also about making our institution better, particularly when it comes to looking out for its people.

Every August 7th for a quarter century now, our State Department community – here in Washington and in posts around the world – has come together to observe the anniversary of the U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam.

On that day, as everyone in this room knows all too well, 224 colleagues, friends, community members, and loved ones were cruelly taken from us, from you.  Thousands of others were injured, left, as you’ve heard, with wounds both seen and unseen, many that will last a lifetime.  Our institution was scarred, and our country was newly awoken to the scourge of terror.

It is an honor for me to be able to join you today in this solemn day of remembrance.  And I’m honored to be here with our colleagues on this platform, but also other colleagues in this room.  You have with you today the then-assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Susan Rice, my friend and colleague of so many years, who helped rally this institution in response to the attacks.

You have with you today virtually the entire senior leadership of the State Department with our Chief of Staff Suzy George, the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Rich Verma, the Under Secretary of State for Management John Bass, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee.  This, too, is some small evidence of our dedication to what this day means and what it needs to continue to mean going forward, and I just want to say a few words about that.

But mostly, as I said a moment ago, I’m so grateful to Edith, to Pru, to John for their ongoing leadership, matched only between what they did on that day, what they’ve done virtually on every day since: advocacy for their people, our people, in the aftermath.

Ambassador Bushnell has written about how, following the bombings, she learned that she could not take away anyone’s pain, their trauma, their anger.  But, as she’s put it, she could “accompany” them, stand with them, listen to them, support them.

So that’s the spirit in which I join you today: to remember the fallen, to celebrate their lives.

On August 7th, the department lost Americans serving our country, and you, their families, most important, lost loved ones.

We throw numbers around a lot.  But we know behind the numbers was a father, a son, a brother, a mother, a daughter, a sister – in this case, a big-hearted young Marine, just 21 years old.  A former high school teacher turned consul general, passionate about helping people.  His son, an aspiring Foreign Service Officer who inherited his father’s devotion to public service.  A new grandmother known as spirited and generous.  A mother of three beautiful daughters.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who served her adopted country in posts around the world.  An American for whom Kenya had long been home before it became her final resting place.  An epidemiologist and loving mom who came to Africa to save children in need.

A career Army intelligence specialist and young dad to two daughters.  A jazz musician from the Midwest.  An Air Force senior master sergeant who never sought the limelight because, as one friend said, she never had to.  A former Peace Corps volunteer who took extraordinary pride in serving all across Africa.

For me, for the rest of the department, for the country, we will never really know their stories as so many in this room did – you, their loved ones.  But I know that they chose to dedicate themselves to public service, that they died trying to make American and African lives better, and mostly – mostly – their lives made a difference.

One of the things I’ve found in my own experience is that some of us in this life are somehow called upon to make a lifetime’s worth of difference in a period that is shorter than what we normally consider a full life.  Your loved ones did exactly that, in some cases in a very small period of time.  They made a lifetime’s worth of difference, and that’s an incredibly powerful, beautiful legacy to carry forward.

When I’m asked about working here, working in public service, I often say the thing that motivates me the most is to go to work every single day with, literally or figuratively, the American flag behind my back.  I know that for your loved ones, they felt that same inspiration, that same motivation.  We also know that that flag, as we were discussing before we came out here, also makes us a target, and we have to factor that in and account for that in everything that we do.  And I’ll say a few more words about that in a moment.

But today, we also remember the hundreds of others who were killed on that day: the 34 Kenyans and 10 Tanzanians who were working for our embassies.  Our Foreign Service nationals are the lifeblood of every single mission we have anywhere in the world.  Two-thirds of this institution is comprised of locally engaged staff.  We couldn’t do our work without their partnership, without their friendship, and we saw that on display in Kenya and Tanzania 25 years ago.

And then, as you’ve heard, so many others who were just going about their lives, going to work, shopping, traveling – all of them in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I’m grateful, ambassadors, to both of you – Ambassador Amayo, Ambassador Kanza – for joining us today, for joining us in keeping this memory as a powerful source of inspiration for what we’re doing today and what we’ll be doing in the days ahead.  And I thank you.

Finally, today we pay tribute to the extraordinary courage – indeed, the heroism – of so many.  You’ve heard it referred to already: people who jumped into the breach, who staunched wounds, who pulled survivors from the rubble, who turned cars into ambulances and homes into hospitals, who got the injured out and got help in, who set up temporary embassies not only to coordinate response efforts but also to ensure that our posts could continue their vital daily work.  Americans, Africans who ensured that the spirit of harambee – all pull together – prevailed.

As one USAID worker based in Nairobi at the time of the bombing said, “We were an embassy family, not a collection of acronyms.”  And that was something also that our entire country and, in fact, the entire world, saw on August 7th.

U.S. embassy staff, the locally employed staff, their families – they all shoulder significant risks and hardships, professional and personal, to carry out the work of diplomacy.  So we owe them, I owe them, this entire team owes them to look out for them every single day.  We owe them to spare no effort to ensure their safety and their well-being.

But I have to tell you it’s in so many ways thanks to you, thanks to the families of those who were lost, thanks to my colleagues on this platform who, day in, day out these past 25 years, have done so much to make sure that we are living up or at least trying to live up effectively to that responsibility; making sure that we heard, year in, year out, of that ongoing responsibility; taking that message to Congress; taking that message to your fellow citizens.

For all of us, I simply want to say thank you because your own efforts, your own courage, your own commitment has done so much to make this institution better than it was in looking out for its people.

That’s a job that’s not yet complete; we have a lot of work still to do.  But after the bombings, we worked with Congress to invest almost $1.5 billion every year to build more secure embassy facilities.  I’ve had the privilege in this job traveling around to see a lot of those facilities, and I know that they wouldn’t be there were it not for your voices, your advocacy, your tireless commitment.

We also partnered with Congress on legislation that required new protections like the 100-foot setbacks, high perimeter walls, access control for visitors.  We continue to take steps to work to keep our personnel safe today – while ensuring that they can engage with local communities to carry out their missions.

You all know better than just about anyone how challenging getting that balance right is.  We send people around the world so that they can engage, so that they can connect, so that they can represent us.  Making sure that they’re able to do that, while doing everything possible to ensure that they do so in safety and security, is the work we bring every single day.

I’m looking at – in particular at Deputy Secretary Verma and Under Secretary Bass.  I know how they and their teams, every single day, are taking to this responsibility.  And I think I speak for them and everyone else here in saying that as we’re doing that, somewhere your voices, your experiences, your stories are resonating in our heads and also in our hearts.

There’s another thing that’s so important to me, and you’ve heard it referred to – we’ve also worked to improve our support for our team during times of crisis.  Thirty years ago, mental health support at a post was extremely limited, if it existed at all.  Today, we’ve got a corps of psychiatrists that provides crisis response, one-on-one counseling, and other direct services.  Our Care Coordination Team assists in case of physical health incidents, including by helping to secure workers’ compensation, workers’ benefits.  The Office of Casualty Assistance acts as a single point of contact for bereaved families and those who have experienced critical incidents like a terrorist attack.

One of the messages I’ve tried to share with everyone in this department – Under Secretary Bass in particular as well – is that especially when it comes to mental health challenges, there is not, there cannot be, there must not be any stigma attached to raising your hand and saying I need some help, I need some support.  I want to make sure that everyone in this institution understands that, knows that, and as necessary acts on that.

Sometimes the most powerful way to connect with people on that proposition is to share stories, to let them in on your own experience.  It’s incredibly powerful, especially as colleagues see someone who they couldn’t imagine has a care in the world, when they learn the story, what’s affected them, how their lives have been affected.  It helps give people the courage themselves to come forward to look for assistance.  And so I’m grateful to so many of you who in different ways have shared your own trauma, shared the difficulties that you’ve had.  And we know that sometimes they can be immediate, sometimes it manifests a week later, a month later, five years later, ten years later.  We don’t know.  But I do know that our ability to be there for people who are experiencing this and the willingness of so many to share their experiences makes a profound difference.

And finally – and I benefit from this every day – we have significantly increased both or staffing and the authorities and resources for Diplomatic Security, our colleagues who every day are putting their well-being and their lives on the line to look out for the rest of us.

We’ve also grown our partnerships in Kenya, in Tanzania, across the region to make sure that they’re stronger than ever.  Maybe that’s the most powerful possible repudiation of the violence and hate that was on display that day.

After the bombing, most of our embassy staff returned to work as soon as they could.  That’s what we do.  Seventy-nine people – 71 in Nairobi; 8 of them in Dar Es Salaam – still work at those embassies today, 25 years later.  This, too, is an incredibly powerful statement about a shared commitment, a shared vision, a shared value for a world that’s a little bit more free, a little bit more open, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more secure.

I can’t think of a better way to honor the scars, the sacrifices of that day than to carry forward the work that those we lost were engaged in – the work of diplomacy, the work of the United States, the work of connecting our country with other countries.

What I’d like to do now is just ask everyone to join me in observing a moment of silence.

(A moment of silence was observed.)

Thank you.  Thank you everyone for your presence here today, thanking – thank you for allowing us to join you in commemorating this day.  It’s the highest of honors.  It’s also the highest of inspirations to make sure that we do everything we can to live up to the responsibility that is the legacy of your loved ones.

Thank you.  (Applause.)

MS BARTLEY:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your words and all the work that the State Department is doing and has done to secure embassies and to help other families in the future.  So we hope more people will consider a career in the Foreign Service and also advocate for families, because that is the most precious asset.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

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