NPR Photographer, Interpreter Killed In Afghanistan : The Two-Way David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna were killed while traveling in a convoy with an Afghan army unit.
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NPR's David Folkenflik reflects on colleague David Gilkey

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NPR Photographer, Interpreter Killed In Afghanistan

NPR's David Folkenflik reflects on colleague David Gilkey

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I am very sorry to report this breaking news. We've just learned that NPR journalist David Gilkey and Afghan translator Zabihullah Tamanna were killed today on assignment in southern Afghanistan. They were traveling with an Afghan army unit when their vehicle came under fire. David Gilkey is a longtime member of the NPR family, a gifted photographer and videographer who often traveled to dangerous places to capture the news. David Gilkey was 50. Zabihullah Tamanna was 38. We're joined now by NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik. David, thank you for joining us.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Of course.

MARTIN: Do we know any more about what happened?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the details are sketchy and fragmentary, and I should warn that in such circumstances often subject to a lot of revision. But what we know so far is that approximately between 2 and 2:30 local time David and Zabihullah were traveling part of an Afghan army convoy with U.S. air support. It was near Marjah in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. And they were hit. It's not clear exactly what they were hit by. There have been some contradictory and some incidental reports - not perhaps enormous weaponry but they were hit. And the vehicle appears to have fallen into a ditch or stream subsequently.

David's body was later identified by our colleague, Tom Bowman, the Pentagon correspondent on assignment there. He and the producer, Monika Evstatieva, who were there on assignment, were not harmed and in fact appear not to have been aware initially that that their two colleagues had been hit in this attack.

MARTIN: Can you tell us more about David Gilkey? As I mentioned, he was a much loved figure here.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, David Gilkey is a tremendous journalist and really known as a photojournalist videographer. And if you think about that, for a radio network, in some ways, to be known for photography sounds like a punchline. But David Gilkey was a powerhouse, and he was really eloquent about why he did what he did. In 2009, he covered conflict in Gaza, and he simply said collateral damage has a face.

And I think if you thought about a through line in a lot of David Gilkey's work, you know, so many conflicts abroad he covered. One of the first journalists in Afghanistan to cover that war after the 2001 terror strikes on this country, one of the first journalists embedded in an Army unit to go into Iraq in 2003 with President Bush's led invasion there, but also sort of the - a row and roster of countries that he covered where there was conflict.

He saw humanity in terrible circumstances and bloody conflict and he also saw the pain and anguish that emerged. And he sought to chronicle that. He didn't describe himself in any way as an activist but he did want people to be emboldened to take action from what he recounted. And he acknowledged that it was tough to do.

But, you know, this was a person who found meaning in going back again and again and again to these incredibly dangerous circumstances and incredibly haunting stories that weren't fictions. They were real and people endured real pain that he was chronicling and of course subsequently he got caught up in that of course today as well.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, David, I'd like to ask you to give us some context about how dangerous it is to function as a journalist in Afghanistan, although I am seeing that he may be the first American journalist who was not in the military to be killed in the 15-year Afghan conflict, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Can you tell us any more about that?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look, since 1991, CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has chronicled I think about 250 journalists killed in combat and crossfire. And, you know, you can think of a lot of people with very prominent names and great accomplishments who were among them. You think of Michael Kelly and David Bloom in Iraq. You think of Anthony Shadid trying to chronicle the conflict in Syria, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington in Lybia.

And there are many, many more in all kinds of conflicts even if this - this mortality of this beloved colleague is - was a rare one in Afghanistan, it also is worth pointing out it's a conflict that many in government and in media thought would have been wrapped up far - long ago and these guys risked their lives to do this for us, and I think we need to honor that.

FOLKENFLIK: That's media correspondent David Folkenflik in New York. David, thank you so much for speaking with us. It's a sad day for us here.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You can see David Gilkey's work online at npr.org.

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