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Killed On The Job In Afghanistan: NPR Photographer And Interpreter


We begin this morning with the sad news that two members of the NPR family have been killed in Afghanistan.


NPR photographer David Gilkey and interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna were on assignment with an Afghan military convoy in Helmand Province when they came under fire by the Taliban yesterday. It's a Taliban stronghold. It's a place David Gilkey knew very well, as he did almost every dangerous place in Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Gilkey, as we often called him, was there to take the pictures he became known and honored for, images that found the humanity in wars and disaster zones.

GREENE: Just before leaving on this assignment, he spoke to NPR live. David was going to do what he had done so many times before. He was embedding with both the U.S. and Afghan troops.


DAVID GILKEY, BYLINE: We're staying with them. We're sleeping with them. We're eating with them. And we're going on patrol with them every day. So it's a look that you only get by going there.

GREENE: Gilkey and Tamanna were in a convoy with the Afghan National Army when their armored vehicle was hit by rocket-propelled grenades, killing both men and also an Afghan soldier. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman was in a separate vehicle at the time with producer Monika Evstatieva when they were attacked.

MONTAGNE: And we reach Tom Bowman in Kandahar this morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: We start taking machine gun fire. We could hear mortars coming in. They return fire with mortars and machine guns, 50 caliber machine guns. And immediately, the general turned our vehicle around and we went back down the road to the Army headquarters. And we pulled in. And we said, where are our friends? And they said, oh, they're at a checkpoint down the road.

And we assumed they'd be coming soon. And we waited maybe an hour or two. And then a Afghan Army truck came in. And they opened the back. And there were two dead bodies in the back. And one was our translator. We recognized him immediately. And then we were just completely distraught. We said, where's David, our photographer? And one guy said, he's alive.

Another guy said, he's dead. And then maybe 45 minutes later, they brought David back in - his body.

GREENE: And Tom speaks for so many of us who - at NPR - who are struggling with the loss of David Gilkey.

BOWMAN: He was a real character. I know people in the newsroom called him smiley because he never smiled. He was really gruff. But he was a real sensitive soul. And he was a real complete artist. His pictures were absolutely beautiful. And the ones he recently took on a mission we went on were just unbelievable. Any story you did, he made it better because of his pictures.

GREENE: And Tom also had praise for our interpreter Tamanna.

BOWMAN: Yeah, he was a real steady guy, a very, very nice man. He had three young kids. Unflappable, he would do anything with us. He would help us more than you could imagine, getting interviews and going places and just a very kind, kind man.

GREENE: And, Renee, I know you and David spent a lot of time together in Afghanistan. I remember the two of you in a really vivid story in Kandahar.

MONTAGNE: Yes, David, the Taliban Heartland five years ago, it was, where a major NATO offensive was taking place in a valley just over the hill from where I was in Kandahar city. And this - here's how it started.


MONTAGNE: Hello, David.

GILKEY: Hey, Renee, how are you?

MONTAGNE: Pretty good. And David, I'm standing on a rooftop in the middle of Kandahar looking at a jagged mountain at the city's edge. And I know you're just on the other side of that mountain, just a few miles away - very different place. Tell us what it's like over there.

GILKEY: Yeah, it's kind of funny because I am sitting on a Army outpost with the 320th artillery unit looking at exactly that same mountain. Yeah, it's really different. I am in a lush, lush area, the Arghandab River Valley, a very different scene out here.

GREENE: I was listening to that story at home and remember the two of you talking across that mountain. And we should say, I mean, David did not just spend time in war zones and disaster zones. He was touched by lives in much quieter places as well. I was with him when he captured the faces of people listening to fiddlers on a warm summer night in the Ozarks in Arkansas.

Just anywhere he was, he was so curious and so respectful and so graceful with that camera, never imposing. And he would just pick that moment and capture a life.

MONTAGNE: David, with his pictures, taught us so much about storytelling. And we're all going to miss his voice and his talent so much.


GILKEY: It's not just reporting. It's not just taking pictures. It's - do those products, do the visuals, do the stories, do they change somebody's mind enough to take action? So if we're doing our part, you know, it gets people to do their part, hopefully.

GREENE: David Gilkey, I promise you we're going to carry on that legacy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.