Two members of an NPR news crew, David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna, were killed on Sunday while traveling in southern Afghanistan.
“They were traveling with an Afghan army unit when the convoy came under fire. Their vehicle was struck by shell fire,” according to a statement by NPR.
Two other NPR crew members, correspondent Tom Bowman and producer Monika Evstatieva, “were in a following vehicle,” NPR head of news Michael Oreskes told CNN. “Tom and Monika were not hurt.”
Sunday’s attack marks the first time in the 46-year history of NPR that one of its journalists has been killed on assignment.
Gilkey was an award-winning staff photographer and video editor for NPR. In the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, he returned time and time again to Afghanistan and other conflict zones.
“David was profoundly committed to coverage of both Afghanistan and Iraq,” Oreskes said. “He wanted to know what was happening to the people there. I think that’s why he kept going back — because he wanted to understand what was happening to the soldiers and civilians.”
Tamanna was an Afghan freelance journalist hired by NPR to be a translator for its team of journalists. His Twitter profile also identified him as a freelancer with Anadolu News Agency.
In a telephone interview, Oreskes noted that “the Afghan journalists have been the bravest of all,” documenting the ongoing conflict in the country while foreign correspondents rotate in and out.
The NPR team had been on assignment in the country for about three weeks. It was expected to be a month-long trip. The team had already filed multiple stories, including an in-depth report about an Afghan commando mission and a Memorial Day remembrance from Kandahar. Gilkey’s photos were used on NPR’s online platforms and digital stories and slide shows.
They were traveling near Marjah when the convoy was attacked on Sunday morning Afghan time.
There was no immediate information available on any injuries or deaths among the Afghan army unit.
Gilkey and Tamanna’s deaths were not announced until Sunday afternoon U.S. time because NPR officials notified family members first.
NPR staff members responded with shock when the news broke.
“This is an unimaginable loss,” “All Things Considered” host Audie Cornish wrote on Twitter. “David Gilkey was one of our greatest journalists.”
“David Gilkey embodied photography at NPR. Truly, one of the best. This is an unfathomable loss,” NPR designer Wesley Lindamood wrote.
NPR CEO Jarl Mohn said in a statement, “Our hearts go out to his family, his friends and his colleagues out in the field.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 31 journalists and media workers have been killed in Afghanistan since 9/11. Most of the cases were confirmed to be work-related.
The most recent case, in December 2014, involved a suicide bombing in Kabul. Zubair Hatami, a local cameraman, was among the dead.
“We’ve lost too many journalists to these wars. It’s extremely dangerous work. Yet it’s work that has to go on,” Oreskes said. “And there’s nobody who believed in that more than David.”