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Former Freep photographer killed in Afghanistan

Associated Press

Washington — The Afghan president on Monday condemned the killing of David Gilkey, a veteran news photographer and video editor for National Public Radio, and Afghan journalist Zabihullah Tamanna, who died in an insurgent ambush the day before while on assignment in southern Afghanistan.

Gilkey and Tamanna were traveling with an Afghan army unit near Marjah in Helmand province on Sunday afternoon when the convoy came under fire and their vehicle was struck, the network’s spokeswoman, Isabel Lara, said in a statement. Two other NPR journalists, Tom Bowman and producer Monika Evstatieva, were traveling with them and were not hurt.

Gilkey previously worked for the Detroit Free Press.

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani called the attack cowardly and “completely against all the principles and values of Islam and humanity, and against all international laws.”

In a statement from the presidential palace, Ghani was quoted as saying that the Taliban do not distinguish between the military, civilians and journalists, and that they killed Gilkey and Tamanna as the two were reporting on the war. He offered condolences to the families of the two journalists.

Later Monday, Ghani travelled to Helmand to assess the security situation in the rich opium-poppy field region, which gives the world most of its heroin, controlled by the Taliban.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul and U.S. Army Gen. John. W. Nicholson, commander of the U.S.-NATO resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, also offered condolences.

“David and Zabihullah, in particular, spent years in Afghanistan tirelessly endeavoring to tell the story of the Afghan people,” Nicholson said in a statement. “We have the utmost respect for their work as well as those others that endure the hardships that come with reporting from conflict zones.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the killing of Gilkey and Tamanna “a grim reminder of the danger that continues to face the Afghan people, the dedication of Afghan national defense and security forces to securing their country, and of the courage of intrepid journalists — and their interpreters — who are trying to convey that important story to the rest of the world.”

The deputy spokesman for the 215 Army Corp in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, Maj. Abdul Qader, told The Associated Press that the vehicle Gilkey and Tamanna were traveling in came under sustained Taliban attack not far from the main army base in Marjah. He said their Humvee was “only 300 to 400 meters (yards) from the army base when suddenly they came under attack.”

The Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, he said. A total of five people were in the Humvee at the time - Gilkey, Tamanna, a heavy machine gun operator who was on the roof of the vehicle, as well as an Afghan army soldier and driver.

Along with Gilkey and Tamanna, the driver and the machine gunner were also killed, Qader said. The attack lasted 30 to 40 minutes, he said, during which time army helicopters were called in to provide air support.

“The bodies were taken to the army base immediately after the attack, and then transported by helicopter to the corps command,” he said. Later Gilkey and Tamanna’s bodies were taken to Camp Bastion, the main army base in Helmand, formerly under the command of U.S. Marines.

Gilkey, 50, had covered conflict and war in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on Washington and New York and was committed to helping the public see the wars and the people caught up in them, NPR’s senior vice president of news and editorial director, Michael Oreskes, said in a statement.

“As a man and as a photojournalist, David brought out the humanity of all those around him. He let us see the world and each other through his eyes,” Oreskes said.

Tamanna, 37, was a freelance journalist who often worked as a translator for NPR, Lara, the spokeswoman, said in an email. Known as Zabi, he had many years of experience working as a reporter, cameraman and photographer for local and international news organizations in Afghanistan.

He worked in Kabul as a photographer for China’s Xinhua news agency and also reported for Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency. He leaves a wife and three young children, two boys and a girl.

The Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee described him as one of the country’s most experienced journalists. He had a degree in law and political science from Kabul University and aside from his work in daily news, he worked as a legal adviser to a local media consultancy.

Veteran correspondent Phillip Reeves, who recruited Tamanna to the network, called him “a great colleague.”

“He was a lovely man, with a great eye for a story and deep wisdom about his country,” Reeves said in a statement. “He clearly loved his family.”

Gilkey covered both national and international news for the radio network and its website and had made numerous trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, according to NPR’s website.

His work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the prestigious George Polk Award and a national Emmy. The White House News Photographers Association named Gilkey their Still Photographer of the Year in 2011. In 2015, he became the first multimedia journalist to receive the Edward R. Murrow Award for his coverage of international breaking news, military conflicts and natural disasters.

Twenty-seven journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, not counting Gilkey and Tamanna. They include Anja Niedringhaus, a photographer for The Associated Press who was shot dead in 2014 while covering the national elections for president and provincial councils. AP special correspondent for the region, Kathy Gannon, was also in the car and was wounded in the attack.

Worldwide, nearly 1,200 journalists have died since 1992, according to CPJ’s website.

In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Gilkey covered the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010, the fall of apartheid in South Africa, famine in Somalia, and war in Rwanda and the Balkans.

“The things to do were amazing and the places to see were epic,” Gilkey once said of his work. “But the people, the people are what made it all worth the effort.”

Gilkey’s first journalism job was with the Boulder Daily Camera in Colorado, where he covered local assignments for the paper and overseas assignments for Knight Ridder, according to NPR. He later joined the Detroit Free Press until he began working for NPR in 2007.