On a golden summer day last year, Afghanistan’s forever war crept up to our front door. A powerful bomb hidden in a sewage tanker tore through our Kabul neighborhood, bringing blood-soaked carnage to an area brimming with birdsong and fresh blooms. We would later learn that more than 150 people were killed just outside the office and residence of Agence France-Presse, where I was bureau chief, many burning to death while trapped in their cars.
In the early haze of terror, we thought that we ourselves were under attack after the ear-splitting explosion blew out our windows and sent charred rubble and tangled rebar raining down on our house. We feared armed attackers may have snuck into our compound after the blast, replicating a grisly war tactic seen on distant war fronts. My colleagues and I dashed for cover to our underground safe room. Hunkering down with my colleagues in that dingy room, something quieted my nerves: Our chief photographer, Shah Marai, 41, was whispering words of comfort to a trembling, sobbing member of our cleaning staff. Marai consoled her calmly, with not a hint of alarm in his voice.
When the haze lifted, we resurfaced, carefully skirting the broken glass. Marai immediately dove for his camera to do what he had done for more than two decades: bear witness to the recursive horrors of war. With a bulky Nikon camera dangling on each shoulder, Marai was typically the first journalist to arrive at the scene of an attack, sometimes to the annoyance of rattled security officials. Photos were his life.
In April, Marai was murdered in a double bombing—by an attacker posing as a photographer—with eight other journalists who had rushed to cover the first explosion. It was the deadliest assault on the media since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001 that booted the Taliban out of power. His death dealt a devastating blow, particularly to his colleagues: He was a brother, a friend, a powerful chronicler of the cataclysm of war. He was the second journalist AFP had lost in Kabul since the reporter Sardar Ahmad was killed with most of his family in 2014. Then, less than three months after Marai died, we lost another beloved colleague: Our driver Mohammad Akhtar, a 31-year-old father of four, was killed in another suicide bombing in Kabul. The grief of losing Afghan colleagues was aggravated by another bereavement. Earlier this year, our Yemeni photo stringer Abdullah al-Qadry was killed in shelling, just weeks after I traveled with him on assignment for the first time near the rebel-held capital Sanaa.