Kathy Gannon is as brave as they come.
A fixture in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than 20 years, few are better connected. She can pick up the phone to senior people in the government and the Taliban. Sometimes, it feels as though she knows everybody. She was a generous guide to all of us who’ve passed through Afghanistan over the past decade or more.
Kathy has been working with her friend Anja Niedringhaus for the past five years – a powerhouse team capturing the beauty, and all too often, the horrors in both countries. Kathy’s words and Anja’s pictures brought a far away place to life. It’s a tragic irony that two women who loved Afghanistan – its people, its culture, its possibilities – should become victims of a place they wanted to share with others.
Kathy and Anja were attacked on the eve of Afghanistan’s presidential election – a moment that should have heralded celebration: the first peaceful transition in Afghanistan’s long, troubled history, from Hamid Karzai to his successor. They had traveled to Khost province in the east of the country when a policeman opened fire on them as they sat in the back seat of their car. Anja was killed immediately, Kathy was critically injured. Gann0n has been taken to the giant U.S. medical facility at Bagram airbase outside Kabul where she is now in the best possible hands.
Anja is the 32nd AP staffer to give her life in pursuit of the news since AP was founded in 1846, the 26th journalist to be killed in Afghanistan since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. For most of the last decade or more, journalists were not targeted in Afghanistan – accepted as impartial observers, the eyes and ears of their readers, listeners and viewers. Tragically Anja’s death means three of the small Kabul press corps have lost their lives in the past month alone. Swedish radio reporter Nils Horner was gunned down in Kabul. Sardar Ahmad of the AFP was killed with his family as they celebrated Persian New Year at the capital’s Serena Hotel. Now Anja – spirited, intrepid and fearless, with a raucous laugh, the only woman in the AP team that won the Pulitzer Prize for for its coverage of Iraq.
In a note to AP staffers this morning, the AP’s President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt wrote “this is a profession of the brave and the passionate, those committed to the mission of bringing to the world information that is fair, accurate and important.” There could be no finer ambassadors than Kathy Gannon and Anja Niedringhaus. We join our colleagues in mourning Anja, and in willing Kathy’s recovery.