The Good Don’t Always Die Young
The Godfather of Free Range International – the man who pioneered the techniques, tactics and procedures we use to travel in remote districts was executed last week in Badakhshan Province. Dan Terry was a good man. He was humble, self-effacing, and competent. He lived in Afghanistan with his family and spoke fluent Dari and Pashto. Despite knowing him for over 5 years, I don’t know really much more about him, no war stories or tales of derring do. I met Dan in 2005 when he was in Kabul through a doctor friend. I learned later he was in town because he had brought in several children for free cleft palate surgery provided by the excellent CURE hospital in Kabul where they were tended post surgery by his wife Seija who heads the nursing section there. Dan was a religious man who used his love of God as inner strength to help lift the conditions of those he chose to live among – and he didn’t need to tell stories about what he’d done.
When we were starting out in the security business he explained how to operate safely, how easy it was to travel around the country (as long as you didn’t have big armored SUV’s) and how to seek food and shelter in remote districts if we ended up on foot for whatever reason. Dan taught me the most important things I know about operating in as a westerner in Afghanistan; be true to your word, speak openly, greet warmly, and always smile.
The story broke yesterday after authorities recovered the remains of Dan and seven international doctors who had conducted an eye clinic in Nuristan Province. The team decided to take the much longer, much harder route back to Kabul through Badakshan Province because that part of the country is relatively free of Taliban gangs who are essentially armed criminal gangs when not being paid to fight by the various actors in Pakistan who fund Taliban operations.
Press reports indicated that the local people warned Dan and Tom Little (team lead and another good friend who’s been here for more than 3 decades) that the woods they were going to camp in were not safe but they went as planned telling the people they were doctors and that the Taliban would not molest them. That last fact has been true for many years. Despite this precedent apparently the Taliban claimed credit for this multiple murder but I find that hard to believe. Afghan Taliban groups don’t do that to western doctors who are traveling in harms way, unarmed and unafraid ,to treat people in remote locations. At least they never have before.
Dan’s wife Seija is the director of nursing at CURE international and also makes long trips into the bad lands to bring modern midwife techniques to a population of women facing the highest childbirth mortality rate in the world. Dan and Seija, who raised their daughters in Afghanistan, worked for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries which is an ecumenical NGO based in Central Asia.
There are very few men as selfless, patient, kind or as good as Dan Terry. So often it seems in life and especially in war that the good among us go first. Dan wasn’t a young man, he had lived a long life but he was, to all who knew him, a good man.
Dan was extremely good at operating outside the wire in the most remote areas of Afghanistan. He was no amateur, all of us are currently assessing just how bad the deteriorating security situation is for internationals operating in the open. Clearly Dan thought he had a solid plan to get in and out of Nuristan. This time the plan failed and the manner in which his team was murdered portends poorly. This is yet another indicator of how fast the security situation is changing in Afghanistan. If there is any indication that things will turn around soon I’m not seeing it.