On Monday, two suicide bombers struck government installations in Kabul, Afghanistan killing or wounding 110 people.
The first attacker reportedly blew himself up near a security checkpoint for the National Directorate of Security (NDS) in the Shash Darak district of the city. The second bomber targeted journalists and emergency response personnel who were covering the aftermath of the first explosion. Jihadists have often employed this tactic through the years, which consists of waiting for first responders and media personnel to arrive at the scene before executing the next stage of the attack.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RFS), the second blast killed ToloNews cameraman Yar Mohammad Tokhi, three Radio Azadi (Radio Free Europe) journalists, (Ebadollah Hananzi, Sabvon Kakeker and Maharam Darani), two TV1 cameramen (Ghazi Rasoli and Norozali Rajabi, aka Khamoush), AFP photographer Shah Marai Fezi, Mashal TV reporter Salim Talash and Mashal TV cameraman Ali Salimi. According to the report, journalists who were “badly injured” included “Naser Hashemi of Al Jazeera, Omar Soltani of Reuters, Ahmadshah Azimi of Nedai Aghah, Ayar Amar of the weekly Vahdat Mili and Davod Ghisanai of the privately-owned TV channel Mivand.
There were a total of 15 journalist casualties, with nine killed and six others wounded. According to RFS, the incident marked “the deadliest attack on the media since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.”
Another incident in which in which a journalist was targeted occurred just a few hours after the NDS bombing. Media sources reporting from Khost province in the country’s east confirmed the death of Ahmad Shah, a BBC Pashto reporter. Witnesses say Shah was shot by unknown armed men who were riding a motorcycle. The fact that the Taliban categorically denied any involvement in the incident strongly suggests that ISIS may have been involved in this incident as well, although as of now, there is no direct evidence of this.
The multiple attacks on Monday highlight the persistent war on media that has been waged by militants in Afghanistan throughout the 17-year conflict and has recently experienced a substantial spike.
Just a week before Monday’s bombings, unidentified gunmen killed journalist Abdul Manan Arghand on his way to work in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. According to police, Arghand, who worked for Kabul News TV was ambushed in his car by multiple shooters armed with assault rifles on April 25th. Ironically, the attack took place on the very day journalists convened in Kabul to discuss the persistent threat to media personnel in the country.
The threat journalists are concerned about is not just the general hazards that come with covering a war-ridden country like Afghanistan. The targeting of media personnel has been a major strategic element of almost all extremist groups in the country. The circumstances of Monday’s twin suicide explosions also indicated the attacks were at least in part, meant to target media. Not only did the last bomber wait to detonate until reporters arrived, according to a police official who spoke to AFP news, the second terrorist “disguised himself as a journalist” before detonating himself among the crowd.
The above mentioned conference that took place at the end of April is at least one good sign that the unique danger facing media personnel in Afghanistan is at least being addressed.
Unfortunately, only initiating actual shifts in policy and protocols will bring progress to this problem. Security forces in Afghanistan, both government forces and those of the coalition are going to have to treat media assets as high-risk targets. This will mean taking steps like securing media offices and convoys. Also on this list should be ensuring a high level of identity authentication for media personnel to protect against impersonation and infiltration like was seen in the most recent attack. Hopefully, the increased awareness of the risk facing journalists will bring about this change.