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Intrepid AP journalists work the streets of Kabul documenting Taliban troops, daily life

Taliban fighters patrol Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 19, 2021, four days after they seized the capital. AP journalists made rare video and photos of the Taliban patrolling among Afghan citizens on the street. , making The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's Independence Day on Thursday by declaring they beat the United States, but challenges to their rule ranging from running a country severely short on cash and bureaucrats to potentially facing an armed opposition began to emerge. (AP Photo / Rahmat Gul)

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When the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15, no one in the city knew how they would conduct themselves. Would the Taliban act like the brutal force that came to power in 1996, or would they show some restraint? AP colleagues in Kabul didn’t have much time to ponder this question, though it had life and death implications. They were determined to document history.

Kabul video journalist Ahmad Seir and photographer Rahmat Gul — both old enough to remember the previous Taliban rule — quickly got back onto the streets. They drove to the airport where they encountered huge crowds desperate to flee. As they approached, they were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint and beaten on their arms with rifle butts. They barely got away, being chased by some men as the pair raced to their car.

Yet they were back out the next day. They gained the trust of Taliban fighters at a checkpoint near AP’s office and went on patrols with them,offering a unique view from the perspective of the militiamen suddenly in command of Afghanistan’s biggest city. Another day,Seir and Gul recorded a female activist now in hiding,and on another they crisscrossed the city to chronicle the strange sense of normalcy that was quickly returning,with shops reopening, traffic making a comeback and fruit vendors hawking their products.

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Photographer Rahmat Gul covers the first news conference after the fall of Kabul by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. – AP / Rahmat Gul

These spot feature stories and others played at the very top of AP’s video log last week and were used thousands of times by hundreds of broadcasters around the world. The Taliban patrol story,for instance,had 3,309 video downloads by 200 broadcasters,numbers rarely achieved save for major global breaking news stories. Gul’s photos of the Taliban on patrol and others were also widely used,adorning AP’s text coverage throughout the week.

As Seir and Gul worked, they had to push aside larger questions hanging over them and their families. When would they board an evacuation flight and leave their homeland? When would they stop chronicling and become part of the huge crowds at the airport? Where would they settle? Would their families be safe?

The pressure was relentless. And they were not alone. The entire Kabul staff worked tirelessly,pushing aside their own fears and personal concerns. Senior video producer Fazel Rahman ran his stringer network and edited video. Cameraman Mohammed Amin operated live shots from the office rooftop. Rahman,technician Yosuf Habib and office manager Mohammad Zahir spent hours every day collecting information for staff evacuations. Mideast News Director Karin Laub speaks for all of AP when she describes the members of AP’s Kabul office as “true heroes.”

For their historic and important work,thorough professionalism and unbound bravery, Seir and Gul share AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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