A third U.S. Army social scientist has died while on duty. Paula Loyd, 36, an anthropologist in the Army’s Human Terrain System program, died earlier this week from burns received in a November 2008 attack in Afghanistan.
Cary Clack, a columnist with the San Antonio Express-News, described the attack as unprovoked. “Loyd was in the Afghan village of Maywand on Nov. 4 when she began talking to an Afghan man. Without warning he doused her [with a flammable liquid] and set her on fire.” The attack left Loyd with second- and third-degree burns over 60% of her body. The Taliban, added Clack, took credit for the attack in a Web site statement. She died at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, where she had been transferred.
Wired’s Danger Room blog says Loyd was the third social scientist in the Human Terrain program killed in the line of duty, and the second one killed in Afghanistan. Michael Bhatia, a political scientist in the program, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in May 2008. About 2 months later, Nicole Suveges, an economist working for an Army contractor, died when a bomb destroyed a community building in Sadr City, Baghdad.
The Human Terrain System’s purpose, as described by its Web site, is “to improve the military’s ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed; however, in the long-term, HTS hopes to assist the US government in understanding foreign countries and regions prior to an engagement within that region.”
Update, 13 January 2009. The Human Terrain System Web site now has a memorial page for Loyd. That page says the attack took place on 5 November, not 4 November as reported by Cary Clack.
Update, 9 January 2009: Ms. Loyd’s age corrected. BAE Systems, the company that employed Loyd, released a statement today.