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Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist killed in Afghanistan

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Kabul, Afghanistan — A Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer with the Reuters news agency was killed Friday covering fighting between Afghan security forces and the Taliban near a border crossing with Pakistan, the media outlet reported, citing an Afghan army commander. Afghan forces were fighting to retake Spin Boldak when Danish Siddiqui and a senior Afghan officer were killed in Taliban crossfire, the official told Reuters.

Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui, poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 8, 2021. / Credit: MOHAMMAD ISMAIL/REUTERS
Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui, poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 8, 2021. / Credit: MOHAMMAD ISMAIL/REUTERS

The agency reported that Siddiqui, an Indian national, had been embedded with Afghan special forces in Kandahar since this week. "We are urgently seeking more information, working with authorities in the region," Reuters president Michael Friedenberg and editor-in-chief Alessandra Galloni said in a statement. "Danish was an outstanding journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague. Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time." Reuters said Siddiqui had earlier reported being wounded in the arm by shrapnel while covering the fighting. He was treated and had been recovering when Taliban fighters retreated from the fighting in Spin Boldak.

The agency said it was unable to independently verify the details. Siddiqui was part of a team to share the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis. The agency said he had worked for them since 2010, covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes.

Chargé d'Affaires Ross Wilson, the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, expressed condolences to Siddiqui's family on Friday in a series of tweets. He called it a "tragedy for #Afghanistan and the world that Danish is the latest of 54 reporters who have been killed or murdered" in the country.

(1/2) I am seeing heartbreaking reports that Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui has been killed while covering fighting in Kandahar. It is a tragedy for #Afghanistan and the world that Danish is the latest of 54 reporters who have been killed or murdered.

— Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) July 16, 2021

As CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata reported, Taliban militants have seized significant ground since the U.S. troop withdrawal began in earnest this year, taking districts across the country and encircling provincial capitals ahead of what many fear could be a push to retake control of the country by force when the American pullout is complete at the end of August. The insurgent group claims to control more than 80% of Afghan territory.

Attacks on journalists and prominent female Afghans have increased over the last year as the Taliban has reasserted itself. The ISIS branch in the country has also claimed the murders of several female journalists.

What the Taliban's advance means for Afghanistan's future

Mujib Khalwatgar, the director of Nai, a media watchdog and advocacy organization that promotes free speech in Afghanistan, told CBS News early this year that security and financial threats had forced at least 10 Afghan radio stations to close in 2020. Almost a dozen journalists were killed in the country during 2020, according to Nai.

"We have recorded at least 11 cases of murder, 20 cases of injuries, 10 cases of kidnapping and over 30 cases of beatings in 2020," Khalwatgar told CBS News.

CBS News' Ahmad Mukhtar said journalists have faced constant threats, intimidation, and violence — not only from militant groups, but from state actors. Many Afghan journalists have been threatened or intimidated for their work by government security agencies and civilian officials. Some have been attacked and beaten.

Fewer than 1,000 American forces remain in the country, and from August there are only expected to be around 650 U.S. Marines left in Afghanistan after 20 years of war. They'll be focused on helping to defend the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the main international airport.

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