In Afghanistan, Western Journalists Are Increasingly in Crosshairs

Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon were among the most experienced journalists working in Afghanistan. Together, they have reported from war zones around the world, frequently escaping death by the skin of their teeth.

On Friday, Niedringhaus's luck ran out. Gannon, a writer for the Associated Press, and Niedringhaus, a photographer for the wire service, were traveling in a convoy with poll workers, protected by the Afghan National Army and police in the eastern province of Khost when they attacked by an Afghan police officer. Gannon survived, Niedringhaus did not.

Friday's attack is the third high-profile attack on Western journalists during the past month that has resulted in the death of a reporter. In early March, a gunman shot and killed Nils Horner, a reporter for Swedish Radio, in an upscale area of Kabul. A week and a half later, gunmen attacked the Serena Hotel in Kabul, killing Sardar Ahmad, a senior reporter for Agence-France Presse, his wife, and two of their three children.

The killing of Niedringhaus, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work in Iraq, and the wounding of Gannon add to what has become an increasingly precarious security environment for journalists working in Afghanistan in the run-up to Saturday's presidential election. While the Taliban has pledged to disrupt the elections by stepping up attacks, there is no concrete evidence to indicate that the recent spate of attack on Western journalists is part of a coordinated effort to target members of the media. "We are ascribing her death to being on a dangerous assignment rather than murder per se," Bob Dietz, the Asia program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in an interview.

Investigators have been unable to link the attacks that killed Horner and Ahmad to a larger pattern of efforts to target Western journalists and intimidate reporters from staying away from the country. The death of Ahmad and members of his family have been described as an instance of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And while a Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility for the killing of Horner, it is unclear whether he was deliberately targeted as a member of the media.

Western journalists, of course, aren't the only ones paying a price for their work in Afghanistan. According to a report published last week by Reporters Without Borders, local journalists have experienced increased attacks and threats ahead of the election.

Regardless of intent, the killing of three Western journalists in recent weeks sends a clear message to media organizations looking to cover Saturday's pivotal elections: The Taliban considers all Westerners fair game for attacks -- and that includes members of the media.

In all three instances, the journalists killed at the hands of the Taliban were experienced war correspondents aware of the risks of working in a country such as Afghanistan. All understood how to take appropriate security precautions.

Despite the lack of a clear statement of intent from the Taliban, their deaths are difficult to interpret as anything less than an effort to discourage Western media outlets from sending reporters to Kabul, even if no concrete evidence has emerged indicating that insurgents have made a conscious decision to target journalists.

Increasingly, that's a distinction without a difference.

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images


George W. Bush Has Spent His Retirement Painting Portraits of World Leaders

When he first began painting, former President George W. Bush's art instructor asked him what his goal was. "Well, there's a Rembrandt trapped in this body," he recalls telling his instructor. "Your job to unleash him."

On Friday, the former president unveiled the product of his post-White House pastime. In a segment on NBC's Today show -- hosted by none other than his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager -- Bush recounted his conversation with the instructor and showed off a collection of portraits depicting world leaders with whom he worked during his time in the Oval Office. That collection will open to the public on Saturday in an exhibition at Bush's presidential library in Dallas.

Bush picked up painting more seriously after the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis suggested he read Winston Churchill's essay "Painting as a Pastime," but he first began sketching on his iPad, sending images to his family members. His portraits of world leaders are painted as Bush knew them. Russian President Vladimir Putin glowers from his frame; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair receives a decidedly friendlier treatment. 

Here is a selection of Bush's work, as presented on the Today show. 

Putin, angry, resentful, and power-hungry.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in traditional dress and looking a bit worried.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in gregarious form.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, decidedly steely.

Blair gets an affectionate treatment.

So does Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

A loving rendering of George H.W. Bush.

One of the president's early forays into painting, a family cat. 

Texas landscapes.

An example of Bush's early iPad sketches.

NBC, Today Show