One foreign photographer has been killed and a reporter wounded in a shooting by an Afghan policeman in the country's east, a day before presidential elections.
Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, a 48-year-old German national, was killed instantly according to the news agency, while AP reporter Kathy Gannon, a Canadian, was wounded in the attack on Friday.
|Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon, 60, was wounded in the attack [AP]
"Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss," said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, speaking in New York.
The agency reported that the two were travelling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots from the centre of Khost city to the outskirts, in Tani district. The convoy was protected by the Afghan National Army and Afghan police. They were in their own car with a freelancer and a driver.
According to the freelancer, they had arrived in the heavily guarded district compound shortly before the incident.
As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47. He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested.
The attack highlights the poor security in the country ahead of the polls, which the Taliban has vowed to disrupt, threatening to use "all force necessary".
|Bullets pierced the car in which Niedringhaus and Gannon were travelling [Reuters]
The shooting comes less than a month after Swedish journalist Nils Horner was killed in broad daylight in Kabul's heavily patrolled diplomatic district.
The Committee to Project Journalists says journalists operating in Afghanistan are under "mounting pressure", with threats and harassment coming from "the government, the military, state security organisations, insurgent groups, and regional and ethnic power brokers seeking a return to power".
Saturday's election will mark the first democratic transfer of power from one president to another - a turning point after 13 years of fighting armed groups that has claimed nearly 3,500 members of a US-led coalition of troops and many thousands more from Afghanistan's security forces.
Pakistan's government has guaranteed to beef up security along its border with Afghanistan in order for the country's elections to run smoothly, as many of the border regions are under the control of Taliban fighters.
Afghanistan's Interior Minister Umer Daudzai said on Thursday that the election will take place in a "secure environment".
Daudzai and other security officials acknowledged that eastern Afghanistan remained one of the most difficult areas to control but insisted government security forces were ready to protect voters nationwide.
He also promised troops would remain neutral amid fears that tribal and other loyalties could create a conflict of interest.
Nearly 200,000 Afghan forces are being deployed to protect voters and polling stations. It will be a key test of their readiness to provide security as international combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of this year.