The immediate aftermath of the blast was chaotic, Abed said. He thinks he heard a second blast local officials have said an attacker detonated a suicide vest before he staggered a few more steps, still not feeling any pain.
When I moved toward the base, everywhere was full of dust and smoke and I couldnt see anywhere, and people were screaming and most of them injured and screaming so loudly," he said. "I just at a glance could manage to see the vehicles of the governor on the other side.
I saw some of the people hurt around me but I didnt see all of them, because I was so sad and shocked and couldnt know what to do. I only saw a few yelling for help, but I couldnt see much.
An American soldier yelled at Abed to get down, so he dropped to the ground. Seconds later another soldier helped him find better cover behind a mound of sand. Then he and the other wounded were rapidly moved inside the base.
His videographer, whod been closer to the bomb, took shrapnel in his legs and arms, and their camera and tripod were destroyed.
The worst wounded were put in one room, and those who werent critical cases, such as the two TV journalists, in another. He said hed watched as Americans pulled white cloths over the dead, including Smedinghoff.
"I met them alive, and then I saw their bodies," he said, suddenly looking away. "I cant forget them now, and I will never forget them."
After U.S. medics stopped the bleeding from his wounds and bandaged them, an ambulance took Abed, the videographer and another wounded Afghan to a local hospital, where a surgeon removed the shrapnel.
Later, U.S. aircraft brought him back to Kabul.
He said he was struggling with his memory. "Its like the only thing I remember is that incident," he said. "I cant concentrate, and I always think about the screaming of people and those who were killed around me.
The Saturday visit to Qalat involved not just the Afghan journalists and Smedinghoff, but also several State Department officials from the embassy in Kabul as well as U.S. diplomats based in Kandahar.
Abed said he was unsure who the most senior diplomats present were, and the State Department so far has declined to say.
All the people in the group were wearing Kevlar helmets and body armor when they left the base for their failed trip to find the school. Before they walked off the base, U.S. officials from the Kandahar consulate had given a presentation on the advances that the U.S.-led coalition had helped bring to the area, Abed said. At the top of the list: much-improved security.
Zabul province, though, is hardly safe. Over the course of the war, more than 100 coalition troops have been killed there. According to statistics provided by a U.S. military representative who works there, the number of "significant activities" involving insurgents such as attacks and bombs exploding or being discovered before they do has increased each year since 2009.
That raises the question of why so many State Department civilians had been taken to Qalat. Ordinarily, U.S. diplomats arent allowed to travel much outside their diplomatic posts.
Among the most seriously wounded was another State Department officer, Kelly Hunt, 33, a former staff member of Tennessees Knoxville News Sentinel who was serving as a public diplomacy officer in Kandahar. An aunt told the newspaper that Hunt had been taken to the U.S. militarys Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for surgery and that doctors there had medically induced a coma and removed part of her skull to help fight swelling in her brain.
Three other wounded State Department employees are being treated outside the country, according to the department, which declined to name them.
A Pentagon statement identifying the three soldiers killed by the explosion said theyd died in Kandahar, apparently an indication that theyd been evacuated by air while still alive. They were Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, of Junco, Puerto Rico, and Spc. Delfin M. Santos Jr., 24, of San Jose, Calif.
Like Smedinghoff, who was in her second diplomatic posting, theyd been in tough places before. Ward had joined the Army in November 2005 and was already on his third deployment. Robles-Santa, whod joined the Army in October 2010, and Santos, who enlisted in February 2007 and was the youngest of 17 children, were on their second deployments.
The name of the civilian contractor who was killed still hasnt been announced. Secretary of State John Kerry described him Saturday as a Defense Department civilian, but it was unclear Wednesday whether the person had worked for the Pentagon or the State Department.