Death in Tani: RIP Photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus

Anja Niedringhaus, An Afghan Boy with German troops, near Kunduz, September 2009
Photograph by Anja Niedringhaus: An Afghan Boy with German troops, near Kunduz, Afghanistan, September 2009

The death last week in Afghanistan of Associated Press photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus came as I was preparing a series of posts on contemporary war photography.  I read about Niedringhaus’s killing by an Afghan National Policeman on the very day I was presenting on war imagery at an academic conference.  Her death at the hands of our nominal allies saddened me and cast a blight on what otherwise seems to have been a successful election in Afghanistan.  Niedringhaus and fellow AP journalist Kathy Gannon, who was wounded in the same shooting that killed Niedringhaus, were in Khowst Province, on the eastern border with Pakistan, precisely to cover the elections.  Khowst interested me, for as most of my readers know that is where I served the majority of my tour in Afghanistan.  Curious where the shooting had taken place, I read farther into the obituaries to learn that Niedringhaus had died while sitting in a parked car outside the police station in a nominally friendly and peaceful district just south of Khowst City.  The district’s name was Tani.

I have been to Tani many times and even wrote about it in a post by the same name in my old blog 15-Month Adventure.  Here’s an excerpt:

“The most evocative of all [local place names] was Tani.  It was just such a pretty name and all our visits there were so pleasant.  As you drove out, on a paved hardball road past some of the more interesting houses in Khowst, the children waved.  Nothing bad ever happened there, or could happen there, it seemed.  The locals were friendly and helpful. The police were orderly and efficient.  Beyond Tani, the hardball gave out, and the IED-infested gravel road rose up toward the deadly mountain passes on the Pakistan border.  But nothing bad could happen in Tani itself.”

Niedringhaus’s killing makes those words foolish, further proof of war’s ability to ruin that which it has touched in ways obvious and in ways we could never anticipate.  RIP Anja Niedringhaus and thank you for your great photographs of Afghanistan and elsewhere.  The upcoming series on war imagery is dedicated to you.  AP’s own obituary, with more photographs of and by Niedringhaus, is here.

Below is a picture of me at the police station in Tani alongside a young ANA lieutenant, an ANA senior officer, and the Afghan National Police station commandant.  I wrote about this photograph in another 15-Month Adventure post called “Orientalism,” where I first conceived of the idea of starting a blog dedicated to war art and literature.