NPR Investigation Raises Questions on Killing of Gilkey and Tamanna

Posted by on Friday June 9, 2017 | Photojournalism

Zabihullah Tamanna and David Gilkey. Photo by Monika Evstatieva/NPR

A year after NPR photographer David Gilkey and journalist Zabihullah Tamanna were killed in Afghanistan, NPR is reporting that their deaths were the result of a targeted Taliban attack, not a random attack as Afghan officials originally claimed.

The two journalists died June 5 while riding with a unit of the Afghan National Army in Helmand province. At the time, Afghan army officials said the men died when their vehicle was attacked and struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. But the convoy was actually targeted by Taliban who had been tipped off to the presence of Americans by someone in the palace of Helmand’s governor, according to the results of an NPR investigation, published today.

The article, written by NPR’s Robert Little, is gripping, poignant and disturbing. It includes new information on how Gilkey and Tamanna died. (See “Not a Random Attack” on the NPR website.)

Gilkey, Tamanna, NPR reporter Tom Bowman and producer Monika Evstatieva were in Helmand to report on the Afghan National Army’s fight against the Taliban. They met with the provincial governor at his palace, and interviewed the top general in the region. The general invited them to ride with his troops and tour an area he claimed was cleared of Taliban. While riding in Humvees, they came under attack from Taliban forces. The Humvee carrying Bowman and Evstatieva escaped. When the bodies of Gilkey and Tamanna were recovered hour later, Bowman and Evstatieva were suspicious of the reports that both men had been killed by an RPG.

In fact, Tamanna died from a single gun shot. An autopsy showed Gilkey died from severe burns. His body showed no evidence of having been near a grenade blast.

In the past year, Bowman spoke to several sources in Afghanistan, including a spokesperson for the Taliban, who claimed Taliban forces attacked the convoy because they believed it carried American soldiers, not journalists.

The article notes several other questions remain unanswered. NPR continues to investigate.

Last fall, NPR established the David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna Memorial Fund. This week, the names of Gilkey,  Tamanna and 12 other journalists were added to the  memorial at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director at NPR, paid tribute to his colleagues and the other journalists who died doing their jobs. It’s well worth reading in full.

“They lived the way they lived and died as they died because they believed in something precious and simple and profound,” Oreskes said. “They believed that corruption and oppression thrive in darkness. They believed that knowledge is a path to a better life. And that their mission was to serve their neighbors, their communities, their countries and the world by helping to gather and spread the information upon which that knowledge could be built.”

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