Vanessa M. Gezari, for the Pulitzer Center
On April 1, suicide attackers invaded the headquarters of Kandahar's provincial council. A bomb-laden car blew open the gates and four men ran into the compound shooting. They wore the dark green uniforms of the Afghan National Army and suicide vests.
Afghan security forces fought back. Two of the bombers detonated their explosives; the others were killed in the battle. When it was over, a handful of police and seven civilians lay dead alongside the attackers. Among the casualties were two Kandahar provincial officials, the director of education and the deputy director of health.
The attack didn't kill any American or international soldiers, so it probably escaped the notice of all but the most devoted Afghanistan watchers back home. But it was notable for its size and careful organization. The use of multiple attackers, the plan of entry, even the targeting seemed designed to terrorize, not just to kill. It occurred two days after another big attack near Kandahar city, in which a suicide bomber in an Afghan police uniform blew himself up inside a government building, killing eight. The similarities – the use of uniforms as a disguise, the choice of official targets – are striking.
I wasn't able to get to the scene of the April 1 attack, but a Canadian colleague named Matthew Fisher did. Matthew – or Mathieu, as he's known among the French Canadians at the press tents at Kandahar Air Field – is a profane, jovial war correspondent for the Ottawa-based CanWest News Service. He is the wire's Middle East bureau chief, with reporting experience in 153 countries and 14 wars and conflicts. He has a habit of singing while he types, little ditties about the Taliban and Al Qaeda set to the tune of old Harry Belefonte songs.
When the suicide attack occurred, Matthew was shadowing Canadian Brigadier General Jon Vance at a meeting in the palace of the new Kandahar governor, an Afghan-Canadian agriculture expert named Tooryalai Wesa. The explosions shook the governor's palace, which lies more than a mile from the provincial council. Two hours later, at the scene, Matthew snapped a photo of the body of one of the attackers. The man lies on his back near a stand of potted geraniums, covered with a light cloth that's soaked in blood. On his right arm, you can see a bit of the dark green fabric of his Afghan Army uniform.
I'm posting Matthew's picture because it's the sort of image that doesn't generally get much play in the news organs of urbane democracies. (You can read his story about the attack here).
For years, I've had editors tell me that whatever publication I'm writing for is a "family newspaper," something kids might flip through in search of comics, something that people will be reading over Corn Flakes in a kitchen somewhere, and gore and Corn Flakes don't mix. Maybe so, but at times such decisions unnecessarily mask the face of war. They can also conceal the kind of information that pictures convey more clearly than words.
Look at the man in this picture. What can you tell about him? If you've lived, worked or traveled in this part of the world, you might venture an informed guess. Look at the cut of his mustache, the shade of his skin. If we want to end the conflict in Afghanistan, we should pay close attention to the information that images like this convey. The Afghan police and the various militaries stationed here undoubtedly have their own opinions. And Matthew and I have ours.