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Washington team breaks multiple stories; keeps AP ahead during Afghanistan withdrawal

U.S military aircraft takes off at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. The massive U.S.-led airlift was winding down Saturday ahead of a U.S. deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan by Tuesday. Most allies have completed their own airlifts and flown out after 20 years of deployment in the country. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

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As AP’s staff in Afghanistan grappled with the turmoil of the U.S. evacuation, an AP trio half a world away — Pentagon reporters Bob Burns and Lita Baldor and State Department reporter Matt Lee, with contributions by colleagues — set the standard, breaking news on the month’s most competitive story.

When a suicide bomber struck at Kabul’s airport,Baldor and Lee broke the news that 12 members of the U.S. military had been killed, a number that would later rise to 13 when another Marine died. Baldor also broke the story of two congressmen whose surprise visit to Kabul stunned State Department and U.S. military personnel, furious that they had to divert resources for the lawmakers.

Burns was the first to get word that Gen. Frank McKenzie,head of U.S. Central Command and overall commander of U.S. troops in Kabul,had made an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital. And finally,it was Baldor,with an assist from Burns, who broke the news of a U.S. drone strike against Islamic State group members late Friday. After pressing at the Pentagon all day,a source gave Lita an early fill-in on the U.S. action. She had an alert and story out well ahead of the competition, beating major national publications by more than 20 minutes — an eternity in the hypercompetitive Beltway press corps.

Burns also made time for an analysis concluding that the ultimate beneficiary of America’s $83 billion investment in Afghanistan turned out to be the Taliban. The piece included the startling admission from a U.S. official that the Taliban had suddenly accumulated an “enormous” collection of U.S.-supplied Afghan equipment.

Whether posing tough questions at government briefings or getting the deeper story through one-on-one reporting,the reporters turned out crisp stories that were fair,accurate and authoritative. Their news breaks consistently attracted top AP traffic. Six of the stories in the week’s top 10 for AP News pageviews came either directly or with help from this team.

For repeatedly scooping the competition and setting the news agenda on the closely watched,fast-developing events in Afghanistan,the team of Bob Burns, Lita Baldor and Matthew Lee is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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