An AP duo engages with the Taliban to make significant video and photos of the militants in control of Kabul.
When the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15, no one in the city knew how they would conduct themselves. Would the Taliban act like the brutal force that came to power in 1996, or would they show some restraint? AP colleagues in Kabul didn’t have much time to ponder this question, though it had life and death implications. They were determined to document history.
Kabul video journalist Ahmad Seir and photographer Rahmat Gul — both old enough to remember the previous Taliban rule — quickly got back onto the streets. They drove to the airport where they encountered huge crowds desperate to flee. As they approached, they were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint and beaten on their arms with rifle butts. They barely got away, being chased by some men as the pair raced to their car.
Yet they were back out the next day. They gained the trust of Taliban fighters at a checkpoint near AP’s office and went on patrols with them, offering a unique view from the perspective of the militiamen suddenly in command of Afghanistan’s biggest city. Another day, Seir and Gul recorded a female activist now in hiding, and on another they crisscrossed the city to chronicle the strange sense of normalcy that was quickly returning, with shops reopening, traffic making a comeback and fruit vendors hawking their products.
These spot feature stories and others played at the very top of AP’s video log last week and were used thousands of times by hundreds of broadcasters around the world. The Taliban patrol story, for instance, had 3,309 video downloads by 200 broadcasters, numbers rarely achieved save for major global breaking news stories. Gul’s photos of the Taliban on patrol and others were also widely used, adorning AP’s text coverage throughout the week.
As Seir and Gul worked, they had to push aside larger questions hanging over them and their families. When would they board an evacuation flight and leave their homeland? When would they stop chronicling and become part of the huge crowds at the airport? Where would they settle? Would their families be safe?
The pressure was relentless. And they were not alone. The entire Kabul staff worked tirelessly, pushing aside their own fears and personal concerns. Senior video producer Fazel Rahman ran his stringer network and edited video. Cameraman Mohammed Amin operated live shots from the office rooftop. Rahman, technician Yosuf Habib and office manager Mohammad Zahir spent hours every day collecting information for staff evacuations. Mideast News Director Karin Laub speaks for all of AP when she describes the members of AP’s Kabul office as “true heroes.”
For their historic and important work, thorough professionalism and unbound bravery, Seir and Gul share AP’s Best of the Week honors.