- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Friends and colleagues say Thor Hesla, the U.S. aid worker killed in a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul on Monday, was exactly the kind of American who made an eventual U.S. victory possible in the battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

Mr. Hesla, a Washington-based contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was among eight persons, including several foreigners, who died in the assault on the five-star Serena Hotel.

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack, in which one bomber blew himself up at the entrance, allowing his colleagues to get past the armed guards, metal detectors and blast walls protecting the hotel.

Another attacker detonated himself inside, while others shot and killed several foreigners, including Mr. Hesla, who were using the hotel gym.

This is a new kind of target for the Taliban, wrote Afghan specialist Barnet Rubin on his blog, noting it is the first attack deliberately targeting Western aid workers, many of whom stayed at the hotel or used the facilities there. I imagine it will not be the last.

Friends and family in the Washington area memorialized Mr. Hesla in e-mail exchanges and on the Web yesterday, recalling his sharp and unforgiving wit, astute intelligence and generous nature.

Even in Washington where there are a lot of smart and very intense people, Thor stood out, said his friend Nicholas Flagler, for his intellectual focus and gusto.

He had the biggest personality, but his heart was even bigger than that, added former colleague Tricia Enright. Anyone who counted him as a friend was seriously fortunate.

Ms. Enright met the lifelong Democrat when they both worked on the 1992 Clinton campaign, and Mr. Hesla maintained close contact with her and other campaign alumni, even after he left party politics for event management and later development work, initially in the Kosovo province of Serbia.

Because he spent so much of his time out of the country, said another friend, Ira Sockowitz, he would send a round-robin at year”s end to all his friends, the much-feted Big Letter.

They were hysterically funny, Mr. Sockowitz recalled of the letters, full of insight and observation, and poking merciless fun both at himself and the situations he found himself in.

His humor is something all of his friends recall. When I think about the times in my life that I laughed so hard it hurt, said Ms. Enright, Thor was involved in almost all of them.

Like a lot of us who work in politics, he was a little cynical about it sometimes, but he passionately believed in trying to make the world a better place, Mr. Sockowitz said. While we just talked about it, he actually went and lived in these places.

Mr. Hesla arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the end of October last year, to do public affairs work on a USAID-funded development project for the country’s government.

Although he lived in what he described to friends as a corporate villa in the heavily patrolled part of Kabul where the embassies are, he joined the gym and spa at the Serena, and apparently was working out there when the attackers struck.

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