In the latest disturbing sign of Afghanistan's collapse into war-torn chaos once again amid the ongoing rapid US troop draw down, which has an expected final "completion" by August 31 according to Biden's recently declared timetable, a Reuters journalist has been gunned down while covering clashes near the Pakistani border.
The journalist has been identified by Afghan forces quickly after the Friday incident as Danish Siddiqui. He was embedded with national troops as Afghan special forces attempted to retake a key border crossing area with Pakistan, specifically in a market area of Spin Boldak.
A senior Afghan officer had described to Reuters that their correspondent had been caught in "Taliban crossfire" during the intense battle. "Siddiqui had been talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again," the Afghan commander was cited as saying.
Siddiqui was well-known within the country and internationally, having been part of the Reuters photojournalist team which won a 2018 Pulitzer prize for coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh-Myanmar. He was from India and well-known also for his coverage of political turmoil in India over past years.
He was so well-known that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani quickly issued a statement mourning the loss, saying he was "deeply saddened with the shocking reports" of Siddiqui's death. The fact that a journalist has been killed while embedded with the military is somewhat of a rarity in recent years, suggesting a return to a wartime intensity that defined the opening years of US invasion and tenuous occupation after 2001.
Terrible Terrible news. Our dearest Danish Siddiqui, Reuters Chief photojournalist, was killed in clashes in Spin Boldak district in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was embedded with Afghan forces which came under attack by Taliban. Remember reporting with him on many assignments. RIP pic.twitter.com/htFvIT8MiG— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) July 16, 2021
Interestingly, the Taliban is distancing itself from the journalist's killing, issuing a statement saying amid the "fierce battle" its fighters had no way of knowing there was a journalist in the area.
As the vast majority of US troops are now out of the country, and with the Pentagon seeking to place an additional 650 forces for beefed-up embassy security at the large American compound in Kabul, Afghan national forces are now engaged in persisting clashes with the Taliban in various places across the country.
Below was among the last of Danish Siddiqui's posts on Twitter...
Got a 15 minute break during almost 15 hours of back to back missions. pic.twitter.com/Y33vJYIUlr— Danish Siddiqui (@dansiddiqui) July 13, 2021
The elite US-trained special forces are already said to be stretched very thin amid Taliban ambushes and hit-and-run tactics which keeps the shifting field of battle unpredictable and moving.