Afghan Policeman Kills AP Photographer Niedringhaus, Wounds Reporter Gannon

This photo of Niedringhaus accompanies the AP story on her death.

This photo of Niedringhaus accompanies the AP story on her death.

Yesterday, in noting the large deployment of Afghan security personnel for Saturday’s presidential election, I wondered in an aside how well these troops had been screened, since a large contingent of them were described in the Afghan press as “fresh”. Sadly, a police unit commander in the Tanai District on the outskirts of Khost turned his gun on a vehicle occupied by AP photographer Anje Niedringhaus and AP reporter Kathy Gannon. Niedringhaus was killed and Gannon is being treated for at least two bullet wounds but is said to be in stable condition. Early reports suggest that the police officer who opened fire was not a recent recruit and was taken into custody when he surrendered immediately after the incident.

AP provides details on Niedringhaus’ Pulitzer Prize-winning career:

Niedringhaus covered conflict zones including Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Gaza and the West Bank during a 20-year stretch, beginning with the Balkans in the 1990s. She had traveled to Afghanistan numerous times since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Niedringhaus, who also covers sports events around the globe, has received numerous awards for her works.

She was part of an AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography for coverage of the war in Iraq, and was awarded the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. She joined the AP in 2002 and had since been based in Geneva, Switzerland. From 2006 to 2007, she was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in journalism at Harvard University.

Niedringhaus started her career as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper in her hometown in Hoexter, Germany at the age of 16. She worked for the European Press Photo Agency before joining the AP in 2002, based in Geneva. She had published two books.

Reporter Kathy Gannon is also experienced in war zones and Afghanistan particularly:

Gannon, 60, is a Canadian journalist based in Islamabad who has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the AP since mid-1980s.

She is a former Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the author of a book on the country, “I Is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years Inside Afghanistan.”

The New York Times has one of the more complete descriptions of the attack that I have seen:

Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon had spent Thursday night at the compound of the provincial governor in Khost, and had left on Friday morning with a convoy of election workers delivering ballots to an outlying area in the Tanai district, The A.P. and Afghan officials said.

The convoy was protected by the Afghan police, soldiers and operatives from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, said Mubarez Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial government. Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon were in their own car, traveling with a driver and an Afghan freelance journalist who was working with the news agency.

After the convoy arrived at the government compound in Tanai, Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon were waiting in the back seat for the convoy to start moving again when a police commander approached the car and looked through its windows. He apparently stepped away momentarily before wheeling around and shouting “Allahu akbar!” — God is great — and opening fire with an AK-47, witnesses and The A.P. said. His shots were all directed at the back seat.

Ms. Niedringhaus was killed instantly.

The police commander, identified by the authorities as Naqibullah, 50, then surrendered to other officers and was arrested. Witnesses said he was assigned to the force guarding the government compound and was not one of the officers traveling with the election convoy.

I have written extensively on the issue of green on blue killings, where Afghan forces attack US forces. It would appear that this is the first instance, though, of Afghan security personnel turning fire on Western members of the press. The Times addresses the insider killing aspect in relation to previous events:

Afghan and Western officials say they believe that most of the so-called insider attacks have been driven by personal animosity or anger about the war in Afghanistan, where many have come to view foreign forces as occupiers. The authorities declined to speculate on what motivated the shooting Friday and there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Taliban, who boast of having infiltrators in the Afghan security forces and often take credit when soldiers or the police turn on foreigners.

Sadly, this incident joins a number of recent attacks on journalists in Afghanistan that have been attributed to the Taliban. From ToloNews:

Niedringhaus is the fourth journalist killed in Afghanistan in the past month. The Agence France-Presse’s (AFP) Sardar Ahmed was brutally shot and killed along with his wife and two children by Taliban insurgents at the Serena Hotel; Swedish journalist Nil Honer was shot dead by an unknown gunmen while walking on a busy street in Kabul; and Afghan journalist Najibullah Parwiz was killed in Kandahar by a blast caused by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

What seems to be particularly ironic to me is that although the military action in Afghanistan has been primarily by US troops, the Western journalists who have been attacked recently all have been from other countries.

AFP is running this photo today along with an appeal for financial support for Abuzar Ahmad, the one surviving child of Sardar Ahmad, who was wounded in the attack that killed the rest of his immediate family:


My usual response to events such as these is to describe them as evidence that after more than twelve years there, the US simply is not welcome in Afghanistan. However, read this comment in yesterday’s post from someone who has been in Kabul for the past 20 months and sees a strong civilian backlash to recent Taliban atrocities. In light of that comment, it is noteworthy that the Taliban has not yet claimed responsibility for the shooting in Tanai.

6 replies
  1. john francis lee says:

    Barack the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Obama’s ‘right war’. And he’ll keep killing Americans and Afghans and any and everyone else in the country, or nearby, for just as long as the CIA tells him to. He’s a real (CIA) Peace kinda guy … in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and Iran too …

  2. Raphael Cruz says:

    Those journalists were traveling in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. In my work here in Kabul, I have repeatedly disallowed travel by our Afghan staff to Khost even though their work required them to go. In reading the intelligence reports following this incident, they had not given prior notification to the security forces in the area that they were going to be there. It’s truly a shame but it was potentially avoidable.

    Those two have been working here for years, traveling to remote and dangerous regions without incident, which makes it possible to become overconfident. I have to guard against the same thing myself. Going to friends’ houses to eat, meeting them in restaurants patronized by locals that don’t have security, I begin to wonder what all the fuss it about, and that’s precisely when things can happen.

    I knew this woman journalist who was here for ten years and traveled all over the country wearing a burka, just she and her driver. She’s now back in the U.S., but i think she was very lucky.

    The polls here have been open now for almost three hours and, so far, no incidents. That doesn’t count, however, incidents that have happened that we aren’t being told about.

    Also, the government has asked the mobile providers to shut down their SMS/text messaging services after the Election Commission caught two candidates continuing to campaign via SMS after the cut-off. This has greatly upset election observers since that was one of the means of communication they had planned to use to stay in touch with each other. It is also is the method that many organizations use to send security alerts to large groups. Ah, well…

  3. Don Bacon says:

    Those journalists were traveling in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

    That’s irrelevant to this situation.
    CBS News:
    The two were traveling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots from the center of Khost city to the outskirts, in Tani district. The convoy was protected by the Afghan National Army and Afghan police. . . . .Khost Provincial Police Chief Faizullah Ghyrat said the attacker, Naqibullah, confessed to the shooting and told authorities he was from Parwan province, northwest of Kabul, and was acting to avenge the deaths of family members in a NATO bombing there.
    President Karzai believes that the foreign forces are fuelling the war, and peace will largely break out when they go. From the president’s point of view, much of the war is, as his spokesman said on 19 March, ‘unwise’ and ‘aimless.’ The US has refused to stop night raids and airstrikes in civilian areas as President Karzai has demanded , but NATO has continued with both.
    It’s past time for the US to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans. That’s obvious.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Looking to the future, assuming the BSA will be signed by a new compliant Afghan president, there will be islands of US bases which would require constant 24/7 air cover and continued air strikes similar to the one that reportedly caused this incident. Also air strikes would be needed to support special forces activities such as night house raids.
    The US has maintained an aircraft carrier in the Iran adjacent waters, presumably to cow Iran but really to help provide this air cover. That Navy air cover would have to continue, as would flights from the US bases in country.
    Last time we looked, these bases would be:
    Kabul, Center, Camp Eggers
    Bagram, Center, Bagram Airfield
    Mazar-e-Sharif, North, Camp Marmal (German)
    Jalalalabad, East, FOB Fenty, Jalalabad airfield
    Gardez, East, FOB Gardez
    Kandahar, South, Kandahar Air Base
    Helmand, South, Camps Bastion/Leatherneck
    Shindand, West, Shindand Airbase
    Herat, West, Camp Stone
    (The camps also have airstrips, except in Kabul.)
    Thus the air strikes that reportedly caused this incident would continue as would the horror that the US has brought to Afghanistan. The Afghans security forces and the Afghans people would continue to oppose US presence as US special forces continue to conduct night raids and bombers continue to bomb Afghan villages. Revenge is a powerful force as we have observed US actions after 9/11, in many countries especially including Iraq and Afghanistan.
    So when Obama says “the war is over” and “US forces will leave” take it with a large grain of salt, as with everything Obama says.

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