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Danish Siddiqui Was Left Behind During Hasty Retreat by Afghan Forces: Report

This latest investigation by Reuters sheds light on key details pertaining to Siddiqui's death.

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Danish Siddiqui was killed on Friday, 16 July, while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters near Spin Boldak, a border crossing with Pakistan.

Reuters, in its latest report on the photojournalist's demise, has quoted analysts as dubbing Spin Boldak a high-risk area for any Indian national to venture into. This latest investigation by Reuters also sheds light on key details pertaining to Siddiqui's death, the events leading up to it and whether Reuters provided adequate security for Siddiqui on the assignment.

The investigation shows that, amid intense fighting in Spin Boldak, Danish Siddiqui was killed after being accidentally left behind during a hasty retreat by the special forces he was embedded with.

Danish Siddiqui's Assignment

Danish Siddiqui was embedded with the Afghan special forces as part of his assignment as a Reuters photojournalist covering the Taliban advancement and ensuing situation in Afghanistan.

Major-General Haibatullah Alizai was the commander of Afghanistan’s Special Operations Corps when it hosted Siddiqui in Kandahar.

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Three days before his death, on 13 July, Reuters published an account of Siddiqui's experience in Kandahar as he accompanied Afghan commandos in their rescue mission.

The same day, Siddiqui himself had also tweeted visuals of the mission, along with nuggets of information and finally, the story, written by one of Reuters' journalists. Even in the face of imminent danger, Siddiqui had written on Twitter, alongside a brief video, that he "was lucky to be safe and capture the visual of one of the rockets hitting the armour plate overhead".

Highlights of the Reuters Investigation

An investigation carried out by Reuters journalists lays bare key details pertaining to Siddiqui's death, even though, some informations remain unclear. The key highlights include:

  • Danish Siddiqui was killed after being left behind during a hasty retreat by the special forces he was embedded with. The special forces had mistakenly thought Siddiqui and two accompanying soldiers had joined the retreating convoy.

  • A driver of a Humvee has claimed he saw Siddiqui and two others getting shot as they ran towards retreating vehicles. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he said.

  • Philip Boyce, a British ballistics expert consulted by Reuters, reviewed photos posted on social media soon after the attack and compared them with pictures and X-rays taken after Siddiqui’s body was recovered from the Taliban, has said that Siddiqui was shot multiple times after his death.

  • Boyce cannot confirm news reports claiming that his body was run over by a vehicle.

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  • When Afghan forces were finally able to get through to the phone of a special forces major who had been left behind (amid the hasty retreat) with Danish, the man identified himself as a Taliban fighter and asked why Indians were being pulled into the fight. When the officer informed that the Indian (Danish) was a journalist and asked for him to not be shot, the man said: "We already killed that guy."

  • While Danish's family has claimed that they believe he was brutally murdered, Taliban has denied the charge saying that his death happened on a battlefield. "We can’t say whose bullet hit Danish Siddiqui, and we had no prior information about him being in the area," Taliban said.

  • On 11 July, when a friend had told Siddiqui to “stay safe pls”, he had replied saying: “Yes yes, I will pull out if I think it’s too bad.” On 13 July, when a colleague had asked Siddiqui if he wanted to go back to Kabul, the latter had given it some thought and said he wanted to continue.

  • When a friend had told him he had been taking “uncalculated risks”, Siddiqui had replied saying: “Ahem! You are wrong buddy… There is a risk assessment done for everything.”

  • Email communications have indicated that editors in South Asia were not included in the the decision to embed Siddiqui in Kandahar, and also had no advance notice of the Spin Boldak mission.

  • Danish’s mission to join the attack on Spin Boldak was approved in a 43-minute email exchange involving photo editors and a Reuters operations manager, who is not based in Asia either.

  • In a call with South Asia staff following Siddiqui's death, Executive Editor Gina Chua, said that before deciding to deploy Siddiqui to Kandahar, the Reuters security team “took into account the fact that he was Indian” and understood the risk factor. However, they balanced that off against his experience and judgment. He was well trained and well-equipped, she added.

  • Reuters had no security expert in Kabul, or in South Asia, at the time of Danish's death and also had not replaced a full-time global security adviser who had retired in March.

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Siddiqui's Last Day

15 July

11:04 pm, Thursday: Danish Siddiqui leaves a message to Masood, a pictures editor based in Singapore. It reads: ‘Leaving Base’.

16 July

5:09 am: Danish Siddiqui tells Gibran Peshimam, the Pakistan and Kabul bureau chief, that dozens of Humvees had left base with the objective of taking Spin Boldak back.

6:33 am: Siddiqui calls Peshiman from an Afghan number and tells him they are expecting to encounter Taliban forces in the next few minutes.

7:03 am: Siddiqui passes an abandoned police truck with its front tire blown out (as gauged by a cache of 350 pictures retrieved from Siddiqui’s camera).

7:30 am: Siddiqui sends a voice message to Peshimam and reports heavy fighting.

7:31 am: His vehicle hits a roadblock.

7:34 am: Siddiqui, in his last picture, shows a commando hiding behind a wall and launching an Rocket Propel Grenade (RPG).

7:41 and 7:42 am: Siddiqui sends two voice notes too Masood. In the first one he says: “What is it, RPG?” and in the second: “Masood, I’ve been hit”.

7:53 am: He tells a colleague in Kabul that he was sheltering in a mosque. In the meantime, a member of his unit has informed Masood that the wound is superficial and they are pulling him out.

7:59 am: Siddiqui shares his live location with Masood and at 8:01 am sends his last message. It is a response to Masood’s inquiry about his injury: “Just painful.”

Siddiqui’s phone signal thereafter moves slowly and over the next one hour, travels from Spin Boldak, towards Kandahar.

9:06 am: The tracking signal stops at Wat Mountain.

10 am (approximately): Masood and another colleague finally get through his phone but a stranger picks up and tells them he is a shopkeeper before hanging up.

Soon after, another Reuters photographer, shares with Masood photographs of Siddiqui’s body that had already made their way to social media.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Topics:  Taliban   Reuters   danish siddiqui 

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