Evacuation: A Narrow Escape in Chad

Posted by Solomon Atayi
February 8, 2008
French Armored Vehicles in N'Djamena, Chad

Solomon Atayi serves as a Foreign Service Officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, Chad. Below is a letter to his friends describing the recent embassy evacuation due to escalating violence and civil unrest in Chad.

Dear friends,

I am sending you this email to let you know that I am fine. We were evacuated on Sunday afternoon and taken to the French military base. Early this morning at 3:00 AM a U.S. military base in Germany sent a military plane to come to bring us to Yaoundé. We evacuated dependents and children on Saturday before the start of the war. They left at 4:00 AM and the war started around 9:00 AM. The Department of Defense element came to the compound to secure it. We were all divided into 2 groups. One group with the Ambassador was at the embassy, and the other group was on the U.S. housing compound. We were all put in one room, and the 11 of us were right on the floor. We could hear the fight. One tank stopped right under our wall, and each time it fired, the room vibrated. We could hear bullets flying as well as the rocket propelled grenades. The U.S. Navy Seals were on the top of the biggest building on the compound, and they had authorization to open fire if anyone came onto the compound. The fight lasted until 5:00 PM when everything got quiet for the evening prayer. Then it started again till 9:00 PM. On Saturday, it started over again. When they moved toward the President’s Palace, the looting started. We were hearing from the local guards who stayed at our separate residences how one after the other they had to abandon each post because the house was invaded by looters.

Yes, I lost absolutely everything. Everything. And I am not the only one. We all lost everything except our life. God was looking over us. Two houses on the compound got hit by strayed cannon fire. We were hearing those guns fire all day on Saturday and part of Sunday. When the rebels stopped the fight on Sunday to regroup, that's when the French troops came to the compound in armored trucks that looked like tanks and took us to their military base. The French sent a helicopter to the embassy to airlift our Ambassador, the marines and others who were at the embassy.

I went to Chad with over 2000 pounds of goods, I left with one bag that contained one pair of pants, 2 socks and 2 shirts. They even took all my figurines and all our Christmas decorations that we had been collecting for many years and were planning to give to the children.

Do I regret having gone to Chad? No. Not at all! In fact, I am ready to go back. We were doing a very good job and were helping Chadian children by donating books, backpacks, and school supplies. We were constantly in schools talking to them and helping them whichever way we could. I really loved this job. There was nothing more gratifying than to see a mother crying of joy because we donated school supplies to her child or a Catholic sister crying because we gave her a grant to help her help Chadian abused women. I loved it and will go back if I have the chance. The only thing I will do differently is that I will not spend the fortune I spent to prepare for my life in Chad.

Again, we are all fine, and I thank you all for all your prayers. Thanks to those prayers, a missile miraculously sailed straight through the Ambassador’s office, piercing both walls and exploding outside, while embassy staff were inside burning classified documents. I cannot explain how that happened, but that was what happened.

Thank you and I love you all.




California, USA
February 10, 2008

Bruce in California writes:

It’s good to know that Solomon A. and the rest of the embassy staff got out safely. Sorry to hear about the loss of your family's belongings to the looters. I wonder if this means that embassy U.S. national staff should only bring essentials when you are posted to a country that could be even remotely unstable.

And it’s very suspicious that the RPG hit the building in the embassy compound where the staff were destroying the sensitive documents. Did any of the rebel groups aim specifically at it as an attempt to hurt Americans?

February 10, 2008

Bob in Greece writes:

I'm glad to see you all were safe. Remarkably, I thought this type of thing only happened on TV.

In fact, on a recent episode of the American TV show called "The Unit" this same thing your embassy went thru was portrayed happening at the American Embassy in the Ivory Coast. Here's the link to that episode in case you wish to review it:

Strange how life imitates TV sometimes.

I hope the State Department will give you all some rest time before starting back to work.

February 10, 2008

John in Greece writes:

Dear Sir,

Congratulations for your stance of life and the way you see things.

Unfortunately, none of us living in civilized, peaceful, democratic countries can understand how much difficult is for hundreds of western diplomats like you to serve in places like Chad -- like "Hell," I would say -- and how many sacrifices it takes to be on duty supporting the highest achievement of Western's World philosophy for FREEDOM: diplomacy!

Especially for U.S. diplomats who have to serve in places that many other nations do not have a diplomatic mission...

Besides, I think that we all owe a big, big THANKS to all those diplomats or embassy employees everywhere who have lost their lives in the past due to terrorist attacks.

Let's hope that we will not have any more victims in the future.

I would be very interested in learning from you how is the everyday, personal life in places like Chad (I mean before the rebels).

P.S. (I am joking) One more thing that you should do the same way, Sir, is that you MUST spend a fortune every time you have to serve in places like Chad. I imagine you cannot buy anything at all in such territories. So, be prepared from the West...

February 11, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Bruce in California -- You write: "And it’s very suspicious that the RPG hit the building in the embassy compound where the staff were destroying the sensitive documents. Did any of the rebel groups aim specifically at it as an attempt to hurt Americans"?

Dear Bruce,

I am not sure about your query, but I see a little irony inside the question.

1. Do you mean that embassies around the world should not have classified documents? Of course they have the right to do so.
The "embassy" is the "home land" of The Embassy. Embassies can do whatever they want inside their territory. This is the first amendment of Diplomacy. And of course, the first thing you have to do when you have rebels outside your house is to destroy all classified information in order to protect innocents and of course the U.S. national security, in this case.

2. Have you ever been to the American embassy in Chad? Do you know the size of the building? I have not. I do not know. Maybe it's so small -- the building -- that any "RPG hit" attack against the building, would anyway hit the remained staff, the Marines (probable Navy Seals) and the ambassador. It's not a question of "focus." But:

Unquestioningly, this was a hit against U.S.A.

However, the most critical question is why you do not understand that any RPG terrorist attack against a USA embassy, is automatically an ATTEMPT TO HURT AMERICANS, the USA and of course global Diplomacy in general even if "miraculously the RPG sailed straight through the Ambassador's office, pierced both walls and exploded outside."

And that counts for all diplomatic missions, no matter where in the world.

Concerning the "essentials," I am sure that you understand that any person -- I am not a diplomat -- who would choose to work in an environment like Chad has the right to carry away some staff that will remind him of his normal life and home, keeping his mind far away from RPGs and rebels.

February 11, 2008

Morpe writes:

What about East Timor?

District Of Columbia, USA
February 12, 2008

Nicky in Washington, DC writes:

Hi Daddy. It sounds like the events that transpired were excruciating and I don't know what I would have done if I was in the position. I'm just glad that you are safe and am always keeping you in my prayers while at the same time am sad that you had to experience that. I love and miss you.


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