'Lucky to Be Safe': From Kandahar, Danish Siddiqui's Last Dispatch for Reuters
Danish Siddiqui had been embedded with the Afghan security forces as a photojournalist for Reuters since last week.
Danish Siddiqui, acclaimed photojournalist and chief photographer for Reuters in India, was killed on Friday, 16 July, in clashes that broke out between Afghan forces and Taliban forces in Spin Boldak, a border town in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
According to reports, Afghan forces were reportedly fighting to retake a market area in Spin Boldak, where Siddiqui was caught in "Taliban crossfire".
Amid conflict in the country, which is seeing a withdrawal of the US troops and an aggressive advancing and retaking of territory by Taliban insurgents, Siddiqui had been embedded with the Afghan forces as a photojournalist for his news organisation.
In what would end up becoming his last dispatch before his death, Siddiqui, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist known for his ability to capture stories through his powerful frames, had detailed a mission undertaken by Afghan forces to rescue a trapped and wounded policeman amid an attack on them.
A Rescue Mission & a Fierce Attack
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.
As the story narrates, throughout their approach to the location of the police officer, trapped and alone for 19 hours, the 30-40 special forces soldiers as well as Siddiqui, travelling in Humvees and expectant of an imminent attack by Taliban, faced "sporadic" automatic weapons fire. Amid a gun battle, the police officer was loaded into one of the vehicles.
And then "all hell broke loose", as Siddiqui put it.
Rocket propelled grenades targeted three of the eight Humvees the convoy was travelling in, leaving them too damaged to be used, causing the commandos to switch vehicles amid gunfire which "appeared to be coming from all around; from a cemetery to the left and the heavy cover of Eucalyptus trees to the right."
Siddiqui's own Humvee, too, was hit by RPG rounds fired by suspected Taliban fighters, but he himself was left unharmed.
Ever the journalist, even in the face of imminent danger, Siddiqui wrote 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."
Successfully having carried out the required extraction, the Afghan special forces retreated speedily, even as the attack on them continued.
Siddiqui, meanwhile, captured a visual of one of the bystanders on the scene, a young boy who ducked for cover amid the volley of gunfire.
After making their way out of danger, the team made their way to a hilltop police base to regroup, along with the police officer they had rescued.
"We were 15 people (policemen), and all my comrades surrendered (to the Taliban) except me," Shah, who had been fighting for two days, despite his comrades giving up the fight, told Reuters.
Siddiqui's last photograph on Twitter is a poignant one, ostensibly taken right after the mission was completed.
"Got a 15 minute break during almost 15 hours of back to back missions," the late photojournalist wrote on Twitter.
Capturing What the Common Folk Can't See
In a profile of himself on Reuters' website, Siddiqui had written: “I shoot for the common man who wants to see and feel a story from a place where he can’t be present himself.”
In his last dispatch from Afghanistan, Siddiqui captured the battle that is raging in the country and the topic of much discussion and reportage across the world.
The Reuters story, which is powered by Siddiqui, shows the pressure on Afghanistan's military to prevent things from falling apart amid the advance of the Taliban and the US' withdrawal.
"The insurgents' hit-and-run tactics make them a tough enemy to pin down, and, while air support from Afghan warplanes can provide cover where there are few civilians, doing so in urban areas is risky," the report says.
(With inputs from Reuters.)
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