Afghan national army

NPR journalists David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna died a year ago this week, ambushed on a remote road in southern Afghanistan while on a reporting assignment traveling with the Afghan National Army.

Since their deaths, NPR has been investigating what happened, and today we are sharing new information about what we learned. It’s a very different story from what we originally understood.

The two men were not the random victims of bad timing in a dangerous place, as initial reports indicated. Rather, the journalists’ convoy was specifically targeted by attackers who had been tipped off to the presence of Americans in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Gilkey, an experienced photojournalist, and Tamanna, an Afghan reporter NPR hired to work with him, were sitting together in a Humvee when they were attacked.

“After the loss of our colleagues, we wanted to be sure we understood what really happened on the road that day,” said Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director at NPR. “So we kept reporting.”

Not A Random Attack: New Details Emerge From Investigation Of Slain NPR Journalists

Illustration: Isabel Seliger for NPR
Caption: Journalists David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna were killed on the road to Marjah, Afghanistan, last year during a reporting trip.


Coalition Special Operations Forces members defend their position from insurgent small arms fire during a day-long fire fight in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, April 12, 2012. Afghan National Army Commandos and coalition SOF, the first to visit that area in more than two years, defeated insurgent forces overrunning a village. 

An Afghan National Army commando, right, carries his wounded colleague as U.S Air Force Pararescue and Navy SEALs special operations forces carry another wounded Afghan National Army soldier to a medevac helicopter from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Lift “Dust Off,” Charlie Company 1-52, following a roadside bomb attack on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Friday, July 29, 2011. 

US army releases photographer’s final image, showing blast that killed her.
In Hilda Clayton’s final image, a mortar tube accidentally explodes during an Afghan national army live-fire training exercise.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul Province. Kabul. November 2014. Rahimoolah, Hamza and Islamudding are National Afghan Army soldiers who had amputations and other injuries. Here they are seen adjusting their prosthetics between physiotherapy sessions at the International Committee of the Red Cross orthopaedic centre.

Photograph: Bryan Denton/The New York Times/Redux


Sergeant Lee’s Last Steps.

[1] Afghan National Army special forces and commandos, 6th Special Operations Kandak (SOK), along with U.S. forces take cover after a rocket - propelled grenade was fired towards them on the landing zone from enemy forces during an operation in the Ghorband district, Parwan province, Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. forces conducted the operation with the goal of capturing several high value targets known for Taliban activity.

[2] U.S. soldiers of the attached to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, Afghan National Army special forces and commandos of the 6th Special Operations Kandak, start their objectives during an operation in Ghorband district, Parwan province, Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. forces conducted the operation with the goal of capturing several high value targets known for Taliban activity. 

[3] A U.S. Special Forces soldier attached to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, looks over the valley as a patrol of commandos return from clearing further compounds during an operation in the Ghorband district, Parwan province, Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. forces conducted the operation with the goal of capturing several high value targets known for Taliban activity.

(U.S. Army photos by Spc. Connor Mendez, 15 JAN 2014.)

IS2010-3021-4 by tormentor4555 on Flickr.

22 September 2010
Panjwa’i District, Afghanistan

Soldiers from Oscar Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, take a moment to rest in their established leaguer in the Panjwa’i district of Kandahar province.

In close cooperation with Afghan National Security Force, 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group provides security by conducting counter-insurgency operations throughout Panjwa’i district located south-west of Kandahar City. The Battle Group conducts partnered operations with the 2nd Kandak of the 1st Brigade, 205 Corps of the Afghan National army, Afghan National Police and the Panjwa’i district Governor in order to advance governance, reconstruction and security in the area.

Operation ATHENA is Canada’s participation in the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan. Focused on Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan since the fall of 2005, Op ATHENA has one over-arching objective: to leave Afghanistan to Afghans, in a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure.

Photo: Corporal Shilo Adamson, Canadian Forces Combat Camera
© 2010 DND-MDN Canada

Made with Flickr
Long shot… A U.S. Special Forces Operational Detachment- Alpha soldier fires sniper rifle at enemy insurgents Shah Wali Kot district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, March 4, 2014. SFODA assisted Afghan National Army Special Forces in creating an insurgent free zone for the newly established Afghan Local Police checkpoints. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Dacotah Lane)

U.S. Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha soldiers fire a Carl Gustav recoilless rifle toward an identified enemy fighting position during the clearance of Dewai Kalay village, Maiwand district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Jan. 14, 2014. The SFODA assisted the Afghan National Army commandos, 3rd Special Operations Kandak in conducting a clearance to disrupt insurgents’ use of Dewai Kalay village and surrounding areas as a safe haven. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Bertha A. Flores/ Released)

Young students in a classroom with no teacher in Helmand Province. The school is currently operating with Afghan National Army soldiers positioned on its roof, with a diminished number of students and teachers and with the sound of fighting regularly audible nearby. Despite all these difficulties, teachers and students alike want to keep the school open as long as possible. (Andrew Quilty/The New York Times)


Devil Dog stands for Bronze Star at retirement ceremony.

[1] U.S. Marine Capt. Derek Herrera, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, is presented the Bronze Star Medal by Lt. Col. John J. Lynch, commanding officer of 1st MSOB, during his retirement ceremony.

[2] Capt. Derek Herrera was paralyzed on June 14, 2012, while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Herrera was able to walk again with the help of an exoskeleton at his retirement ceremony.

[3] Captain Derek Herrera with wife Maura and his therapy canine following his retirement ceremony.

(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Scott A. Achtemeier, 21 NOV 2014.)

Marines with 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, friends and family members gathered to witness Capt. Derek Herrera, a special operations officer, accept the Bronze Star with combat V for heroism and medically retire from the Marine Corps, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Nov. 21, 2014.

Herrera spent more than eight years in the Marine Corps serving first as an infantry officer and transitioning later to become a special operations officer with Marine Special Operations Command.

The Bronze Star Medal is an individual military award of the U.S. armed forces. It may be awarded for acts of heroism or meritorious service in a combat zone. When awarded for acts of heroism, the medal is awarded with a “V” distinguishing device on the medal. The Bronze Star is the fifth-highest combat decoration and the 10th-highest U.S. military award.

Herrera was injured in June 2012 while serving as a special operations team commander in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was hit by enemy sniper fire causing injuries that paralyzed him from the chest down. 

The ambush occurred while Herrera and his team, along with 10 members of the Afghan National Army, were conducting a patrol on the western edge of the Helmand River Valley. 

“Shortly after sunrise, we found ourselves in a firefight with the enemy and surrounded. In the opening moments of that firefight, the sergeant next to me and I were shot,” said Herrera. 

After being shot, Herrera attempted to pick himself up and treat himself when he realized he was paralyzed and unable to move from the chest down. He then remained calm and waited for his teammates to arrive and provide medical assistance.

Herrera said he was confident in his team’s training and its ability to successfully evacuate him from the combat zone. 

“Going through that, there is so many different things that you feel; I actually think I felt a little scared because of what had happened, but shortly thereafter began to really feel just this eerie sense of calm come over me,” said Herrera. “I don’t know exactly why that was, but I think a lot of it had to do with the team I was there with, and that fact that although I had just been shot I had no doubt that my team would get me out of there.” 

Although he was told by doctors he wouldn’t walk again, Herrera was determined to make a difference and be a model of hope and inspiration for others.

“I’m happy to be here, and I think I can still have an impact and positively affect society, so that is what I am focusing my energy and time on.” His determination and proactivity towards his recovery drove him to find the resources that helped him stand and take steps again. 

With the help of the MARSOC Foundation and the generosity of the community, Herrera was able to obtain an Argo ReWalk ExoSkeleton. Herrera was the first person in the United States to use such a device. The ExoSkeleton is a bionic walking assistance system that uses powered leg attachments to enable paraplegics to stand upright, walk and climb stairs. The system has impacted Herrera’s life and he believes it will do the same for others.

“If you don’t do something for weeks and months on end you start to forget what it is like,” said Herrera. “I forgot what it was like to stand and to take steps and to walk, so being able to do that with this device was incredible.”

The system allowed Herrera to stand during the ceremony to receive his award, which was a goal he had set for himself. “I realized my retirement ceremony was coming up and figured that it would be nice if I could stand and walk and leave the Marine Corps in a similar fashion to the way that I entered the Marine Corps,” said Herrera. “I feel very lucky to have that opportunity.” 

As Herrera retires from the Marine Corps, he said he takes with him some of the most gratifying memories as a Marine. “Leading Marines in [combat] environments is very rewarding,” said Herrera. 

Herrera was also deployed to Iraq and several other countries around the Middle East during his time in the Marine Corps. The Bronze Star Medal recipient continues to focus on impacting society and being a model of hope for others as he leaves the military and attacks his next objective.


Afghan National Army commandos from the 3rd Commando Kandak, Coalition special operations forces and Cultural Support Team members during a patrol of Tambil village, Khahrez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, April 26, 2012. The commandos, partnered with coalition special operations forces, conduct village clearing operations in the surrounding districts of Kandahar to disrupt insurgent safe havens and promote security in the area.


U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan and commandos from the Afghan National Army Special Forces’ 3rd Company, 3rd Special Operations Kandak, observes a compound during the clearing of Karezak village, Maiwand district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, June 2, 2014. The clearance was conducted in order to deny insurgent field of movement and degrade their lethal aid to southern Maiwand. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sara Wakai/ Released)

An U.S. Army Special Forces soldier scans the valley with his optics during a reconnaissance patrol with Afghan National Army commandos of the 4th Special Operations Kandak, to deny insurgent freedom of movement in eastern Shah Wali Kot district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Feb. 18, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Sara Wakai/Released)