“This is news I hoped I would never have to receive and never have to report on. There is information that ISIS has entered the airport area and possibly the airport in Kabul. The information is said to come from foreign intelligence services.”
Expressen correspondent Magda Gad posted this message on Facebook on August 21, 2021, for her 180,000 followers. Five days later, an ISIS suicide bomber killed more than 180 people at the Kabul airport.
In April 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden declared that all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by September. Then things moved fast. The Taliban started to attack and seize power in city after city, advancing toward the capital of Kabul. Life was about to change dramatically for the people living in Afghanistan — including Gad, Expressen’s war correspondent.
Press under pressure
Kabul has been Gad’s home for nearly four years. She contributes regularly to Expressen through written pieces and TV reports, telling the untold stories of the Afghan people.
Among her much-rewarded work, she made a series of interviews labeled “Under the burqa,” where women shared their testimonies of rape, abuse, and forced marriage. As Expressen’s war correspondent, Gad also reports from inside conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa. Through the years she has developed a strong bond with her audience, with which she communicates about her reporting.
Although Gad had been in numerous dangerous situations with unexpected turns, she — along with many others — was taken aback by the speed at which the Taliban seized territory during the summer of 2021.
On August 9, she entered the beseiged city of Herat in western Afghanistan, where the Taliban was carrying out its largest offensive so far.
“The Taliban have started setting up roadblocks between the airport and the city of Herat, and I need to be able to get through one without revealing myself as a foreign journalist. Meeting the Taliban with permits in areas they control is one thing, meeting them in war is another,” she wrote.
Giving a voice to the wounded
At Herat’s hospitals, Gad met the wounded and those who had just lost their loved ones as a result of the Taliban attacks. She then managed to be on the last flight out of Herat before the Taliban took the city.
A few days later, Kabul was in the hands of the Taliban.
“I’m only going to do an errand, but the traffic stops and I do not understand why. It’s morning and there are usually no queues at this time. (...) I start to walk and I see how others also leave their cars. (...) The whispering in the streets say the Taliban entered several districts of Kabul. I pick up my mobile phone and start to film what will be historic,” Gad reported.
The images of desperate people fleeing Kabul, with some clinging on to and falling off an American airplane, startled the world. Gad reported for Expressen podcast: “The people I have known for three years have left their houses. Their family portraits remain on the walls, but they have made their way through Kabul airport, the place that is considered the most dangerous on earth right now.”
Unlike other journalists who left the chaos, for Gad the decision to stay was obvious. Afghanistan was her home, and she was determined to cover the dramatic turn of the country’s history. In the following weeks, Gad reported tirelessly for Expressen as well as all the bigger Swedish news media outlets. As the only Swedish journalist on site, she was the eyes and ears of the Swedish audience to what was going on in Afghanistan.
Her reporting has been praised and rewarded, but for Magda Gad the only thing that matters is the people she meets and that their stories come through.