Aid Worker With Md. Firm Killed In Pakistan

By Candace Rondeaux and Daniel De Vise
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 13, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Nov. 12 -- An American aid worker shot dead here Wednesday morning by Taliban gunmen was employed by a Silver Spring-based contractor and was working on a project intended to bring economic development to Pakistan's troubled tribal region.

Pakistani and other officials identified the aid worker as Stephen Vance and said he was employed on a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Provincial governor Owais Ghani said Vance was leaving his home in the upscale University Town neighborhood when attackers opened fire on him and his driver, killing both.

Wes Robertson, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, confirmed the deaths.

Members of the Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the shooting hours after they took responsibility for a suicide bombing at a temporary army base in a town near the Afghan border. Five people were killed and 25 injured in that attack.

Vance's killing occurred in the same area as an attack on another American citizen this year. In August, gunmen shot at a vehicle carrying the U.S. Consulate's principal officer in Peshawar, Lynne Tracy. She was unharmed in the attack, but several bullets pierced her heavily armored sport-utility vehicle.

Peshawar, a city of 3 million and the capital of North-West Frontier Province, has been wracked with violence in recent months as Taliban insurgents have expanded their reach in the nearby border regions. On Tuesday, four people were killed and nine injured when a suicide bomber rammed his car into the gates of a Peshawar sports stadium where thousands of spectators had gathered for three days of athletic games.

Clashes with insurgents in areas around Peshawar have spiked since June, when Pakistani security forces launched an operation against a pro-Taliban smuggling group in nearby Khyber Agency, the tribal area that serves as the country's main northern gateway to Afghanistan.

Military operations in the region expanded in early August, when Pakistan sent hundreds of troops into the Bajaur region to flush out Taliban insurgents from an area that for years has been a key base of operations for Afghan rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The area has been pounded with artillery fire on a daily basis for the past three months. Pakistani army officials have said 4,000 Taliban fighters and 70 Pakistani troops have been killed in the fighting, but have made little or no mention of civilian casualties.

Vance, a 52-year-old California native, had worked for the past six months in a job-development program for a USAID contractor. The contractor, Silver Spring-based Cooperative Housing Foundation International, is one of dozens of private firms hired by the agency to implement a $750 million U.S. aid plan aimed at bringing economic development to Pakistan's impoverished tribal areas.

Vance had worked overseas for many years in several perilous places, including Afghanistan, said William Holbrook, a spokesman for CHF International. He had no D.C. area residence but had visited the firm's offices on Georgia Avenue within the past four to five weeks, Holbrook said. Vance directed a job-creation program in Pakistan's tribal areas and was based in Peshawar.

"It's really focused on getting people to work -- roads, schools and clinics and water systems," Holbrook said.

Vance leaves behind a wife and five children. His family had lived with him in Mongolia, East Timor and the former Soviet Union, Holbrook said. Vance previously worked for Chemonics International, a development consulting firm based in Washington. He had also worked for the humanitarian programs Mercy Corps and Save the Children, Holbrook said.

"He represents a major loss not only to CHF but to the development community," Holbrook said.

Holbrook said he did not know why Vance might have been targeted. Ghani, the provincial governor, said his government in recent months has frequently cautioned foreign aid organizations about maintaining tight security. He said that Vance had been specifically warned about threats in the area, and that Vance was known to travel regularly to Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

De Vise reported from Washington.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company