Associated Press correspondent Kathy Gannon, wounded Friday in a shooting that killed an AP photographer, has reported on Afghanistan for nearly three decades, chronicling the country from the Soviet occupation to the fall of the Taliban to the current presidential election and the coming withdrawal of foreign troops.
Gannon, a Canadian who joined the AP in the mid-1980s, is known to colleagues, diplomats and government officials for her encyclopedic knowledge of the region and for her fearless pursuit of stories, whether they be found in a cave on the Afghan-Pakistan border or in the carpeted halls of power in Kabul or Islamabad.
“She knows Afghanistan very well. She knows the culture of the people,” said Amir Shah, an AP reporter in Kabul who first met Gannon in 1992 and has worked with her ever since. “She is very brave, and she was working very hard.”
On Friday, an Afghan police officer opened fire on Gannon and AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus as they sat in a car at a police station in the eastern city of Khost. Niedringhaus, an internationally acclaimed photographer, was killed instantly. Gannon suffered three gunshot wounds in the attack and received medical attention. Authorities said she was in stable condition and spoke with medical personnel.
“Kathy Gannon is a brave and passionate journalist whose expertise and deep knowledge and experience of both Afghanistan and Pakistan have made her an indispensable authority on the region,” said John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president and senior managing editor for international news. “She and Anja Niedringhaus often worked together as a team.”
For years, Gannon and Niedringhaus could be found together covering stories. They embedded with the Afghan military to report on how it was doing without foreign support, and went to Pakistan’s Swat Valley to describe the aftermath of the assassination attempt against teenager Malala Yousafzai for speaking out on behalf of girls’ education.
Gannon arrived in 1986 in Peshawar, the Pakistani city that became a hub for foreign fighters and money flowing into Afghanistan during their war against the Soviets.
“I sold everything I owned, which wasn’t much, and set out to become the foreign correspondent I’d always wanted to be,” she wrote in her 2005 book, “I is for Infidel, From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years Inside Afghanistan.”
She was well aware of the dangers. She describes in her book how she and the fighters once walked through an Afghan minefield in 1986.
“Suddenly there was a loud explosion – it seemed as if it must be right next to me,” she wrote. “I felt a nauseous surge of fear: The (fighter) beside me had stepped on a mine. It killed him instantly.”
Gannon, 60, has served as an AP bureau chief and more recently as senior writer for Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of her predecessors as AP’s Islamabad chief of bureau, Sharon Herbaugh, died in a 1993 helicopter crash in the central mountains of Afghanistan. The 39-year-old Herbaugh was the first AP newswoman and bureau chief to die on assignment
Two weeks into the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban allowed Gannon and a colleague into the country – the only journalists despite hundreds wanting visas. They covered the bombing campaign from Kabul by candlelight, with Gannon at one point thrown across the room as a bomb landed near the AP bureau. She wore a long shirt, baggy trousers and a headscarf while working in the street.
When the Taliban finally fled the capital, Gannon filed a dispatch that began: “Residents of the Afghan capital peered through the open doors of abandoned Taliban military bases … and whispered to each other: `Are they gone?’”