In the bloody aftermath of the June 15 suicide attack on their patrol in the filthy little town of Tarin Kowt, the young soldiers of the Dutch army’s 42 Limburgse Jagers struggled to keep Timo Smeehuyzen from slipping away. Medics gave chest compressions to the severely injured 20-year-old from Amsterdam while an ambulance from Kamp Holland raced to the scene. But it arrived too late, and Timo died sprawled in the back of a charred armored personnel carrier thousands of miles from home.
Two days later, while many of Kamp Holland’s soldiers were still out in Chura fighting back a Taliban assault, those who could assembled to say goodbye to their comrade. After a brief sermon, hundreds of Dutch and Australian soldiers filed silently out of the hangar. But a few lingered, and gathered around two bandaged and dazed young men in wheelchairs — Timo’s teammates, injured in the blast — to touch their shoulders and their hands, to say a few words. At the hangar door, several men huddled together and wept.
Outside, Dutch, Aussie and Afghan soldiers lined the road to the helipad, standing at attention under a bright blue sky and a blazing sun. Timo’s company escorted his casket, draped in a Dutch flag, past the hundreds of salutes, up a hill to a waiting Dutch air force Chinook helicopter. A gray-haired sergeant played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes until the dry air sucked the last drop of moisture from his mouth; a neary howitzer took over from the piper, firing shells at the Taliban at a steady beat. As Timo’s company prepared to hand over their friend to a dedicated honor guard for the flight home, a dust devil — a tiny spontaneous tornado of swirling sand — descended a few feet away, glided to Timo’s casket and lingered there for several seconds before disappearing into the sky.
The Chinook lifted off in a blast of yellow dust. And when the dust settled, the chopper and Timo were already far, far away.