German Journalists Killed by Gunmen in Afghanistan

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Two German journalists who had pitched a tent on the side of a road outside a northern Afghan village were killed by gunmen early Saturday, the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The freelance journalists conducting research for a documentary were the first foreign reporters killed in Afghanistan since late 2001, when eight journalists died.

A NATO soldier, meanwhile, was killed by militants who detonated a roadside bomb and fired on a military patrol in southern Afghanistan. A suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. patrol in eastern Afghanistan but caused no casualties.

The killings came on the fifth anniversary of the Oct. 7, 2001, invasion by U.S.-led troops to oust the Taliban for hosting Osama bin Laden. Western forces and Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance quickly routed the Islamic regime.

But the militant fighters who once appeared soundly defeated have returned with a vengeance, taking control of large swaths of countryside in the last year. Taliban fighters have stepped up the use of roadside and suicide bombs, and more than 3,000 people have been killed this year, mostly militants battling Western forces.

Some 40,000 U.S. and NATO troops are now in Afghanistan, 2 1/2 times the number three years ago.

The slain journalists — identified as Karen Fischer, 30, and Christian Struwe, 38 — worked as freelancers for Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state-owned broadcast outlet.

The two were traveling through the northern province of Baghlan, about 100 miles northwest of Kabul, and had stopped outside a small village, where they set up a tent to spend the night, said Mohammad Azim Hashami, the provincial police chief.

They were killed by AK-47 gunfire around 1:30 a.m., he said.

“The sound of the shooting was heard by some of the villagers, who ran toward that area,” Hashami said. “They found a tent and they found the two journalists dead.”

Hashami said nothing was stolen from the journalists, including their vehicle. Police had no suspects.

Deutsche Welle said the journalists had been conducting private research for a documentary and were en route to the province of Bamiyan, the site of two large Buddha statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in early 2001.

Deutsche Welle director Erik Bettermann called them “pioneers in re-establishing a functioning media system in Afghanistan” and said Struwe helped set up a state-run radio and television newsroom, a project supported by Deutsche Welle.

“It is tragic that Karen Fischer and Christian Struwe had to die in the country that they spent so much of their energy supporting in the past few years,” Bettermann said.

The German government condemned the killings.

“This heinous crime must be solved and the perpetrators brought before justice,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement. “The atrocious and senseless death of our citizens strengthens all the more our responsibility to support the Afghan government in its commitment to security and a rule of law.”

Some 2,700 German soldiers are serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in the north of the country.

There is little daily violence in the northern province of Baghlan, compared with Afghanistan’s volatile south, but militant fighters allied with the renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar roam the area. A Canadian aid worker helping to build a school was killed in the province in July.

No foreign journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since late 2001, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. An Afghan journalist who arrived at the scene of a suicide bombing in July in the southern city of Kandahar was killed by a second suicide bombing at the same spot, CPJ said.

The attack on the NATO troops, meanwhile, happened in the volatile Panjwayi district of Kandahar province near a NATO base, the alliance said. NATO did not release the nationality of the dead soldier.

NATO troops clashed with militants in Panjwayi district last month, and NATO said more than 300 fighters were killed.

In the eastern province of Khost, a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. patrol near the border with Pakistan, said provincial police chief Mohammed Ayub. Maj. Luke Knittig, a NATO spokesman, said there were no military casualties.

In Ghazni province, police said a regional Taliban commander — Mullah Abdul Rahim Sabauun — was killed by police on Thursday. Sabauun was reportedly a high-ranking politician during the Taliban’s rule.

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