Reporting from the Front Lines of War
Courage Award Winners Kathy Gannon and Anja Niedringhaus have gone where no other foreign journalist had gone before: embedding with the Afghan National Army.
Kathy Gannon (left) and Anja Niedringhaus (right) © AP
AP reporter Kathy Gannon (Canada) is no stranger to reporting from a position of unique insight. Two weeks into the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, she was the only Western journalist allowed into Kabul by the Taliban. Working amid falling bombs in Kabul, writing her stories by lantern light, she has recounted battles, explained the intricacies of Afghan politics, and described the plight of ordinary Afghan people in clear, compelling prose. For that, she was awarded the 2002 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award.
For AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus (Germany), war has been a steady companion in her career that started in 1990 with an assignment to cover the conflict in the Balkans, where journalists were regularly targeted by Bosnian Serb forces. Through the lens of her camera, she has witnessed many of the world's major conflicts, courageously exposing herself to the dangers of war. In 2005, the IWMF honored her with the Courage in Journalism Award.
Earlier this year, Niedringhaus and Gannon set out together to document the war in Afghanistan from a different perspective - a perspective that would would lead them into the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan. Arranged by the Afghan Ministry of Defense, Niedringhaus and Gannon became the first foreign journalists to embed with the Afghan National Army.
In the following exclusive interview with IWMF, the two Courage Award winners share their experiences and explain what compels them to continue their dangerous work.
IWMF: One might consider two women to be the least likely to be the first foreign journalists that ever embedded with the Afghan National Army. What compelled you to tell their story?
Niedringhaus and Gannon: We always try to avoid approaching anything as a woman. We are experienced journalists who have travelled extensively and to many conflict regions. For those who know us, they would think we were probably the likeliest people to be the first to embed with the Afghan National Army. An editor said to us that he appreciated that we did the stories that many didn’t even think of doing and gave a voice to those most often forgotten or ignored.
Afghan National Army soldier Mohammed Zaman lines up with other soldiers prior to a patrol in Logar province, eastern Afghanistan. A small love poem to his country is scratched on the surface of his helmet.
© Anja Niedringhaus/AP
The Afghan National Army story is a critical one ahead of the pullout of US and NATO troops in 2014. But to tell the story, you have to spend time with the Afghan soldiers. It isn’t enough to re-tell press releases or talk only to the U.S. and NATO or even to the Afghan leadership and ministry of defense. The frontline soldiers will be the ones who will face the enemy when the foreigners are gone. They are the ones who have had a close look at their NATO and US partners. It is important to know what they are thinking, to understand how they perceive the enemy, how they hope to secure their country. The reader has to see the face of the Afghan soldier, walk in his shoes and see what he sees through the photographs that tell not just about the terrain that he must cover but about himself, his unit, his commander.
IWMF: As women, did you find any resistance from the soldiers to work with you?
Niedringhaus and Gannon: We did not find any resistance but then neither of us are easily intimidated or deterred when we have put our minds to something. We went out on patrol with the soldiers. We kept up with them and in some cases got ahead of them. We used the same bathroom, showers, sleeping facilities as the soldiers. We were respectful but not cowering. We did not cover up nor did anyone ask us to. We treated them as we expected that they treat us and they did.
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August 6, 2012