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Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent and photojournalist, wins Pulitzer

Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent and photojournalist Marcus Yam was awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography on Monday for his compelling coverage of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. It is remarkable that he won journalism’s highest honor in his first year as a foreign correspondent. This Pulitzer is the culmination of all the great work Yam has produced over the last seven years at the Los Angeles Times.

When the U.S. announced that it would pull American troops out of Afghanistan, Yam believed this would not end well and he needed to be on the ground covering it from beginning to end. We, of course, agreed because we trusted him and we knew he would produce stellar work.

Marcus Yam flying on an Afghan Air Force UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter on a resupply mission in Gardez, Afghanistan, on May 9, 2021.

(Nabih Bulos / Los Angeles Times)

He arrived Aug. 14, 2021; the following day, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban within hours, much to the surprise of the world. But not for Yam, who not only suspected this might have happened but was already thinking of what would come next — the stories of the Afghan people affected by this takeover.

For the next two months, Yam courageously and relentlessly pursued a number of human interest stories even as other Western news organizations exited the country due to security issues. This was perhaps the hardest and most stressful time for me as a director of photography. I worried about his safety daily, as I’m sure many of us in the newsroom did as well. When he was roughed up by the Taliban while covering a national flag rally, several editors insisted that I get him out immediately for his own safety.

Each time I spoke to Yam about leaving, he’d always remind me this was an important story that needed to be told. He would assure me that he had two exit plans every day and that he was safe. Ultimately, after some back and forth, he would convince me to let him stay and keep reporting. I have a deep respect and admiration for him, his work ethic, courage and stoicism amid the dangers and restrictions he faced at the time. Not only is it a testament to the great photojournalist he is but how lucky we are to have him here at the L.A. Times.

Even though this award is for his photography, what was equally as impressive was his ability to navigate the unknown. Yam becomes the sixth Los Angeles Times journalist to win a Pulitzer for the photography categories. He is also the first Malaysian-born journalist to ever win a Pulitzer for photography.

A child cries as another child is cradled by an adult nearby.

A child cries as a man carries a bloodied child on a road leading to Kabul’s airport. Others help a wounded woman on the ground in a scene of chaos as the Taliban secured its grip on the capital while tens of thousands of Afghans raced to the airport, hoping to be evacuated on U.S. military transport planes. Taliban fighters used gunfire, whips, sticks and sharp objects to violently rebuff thousands of Afghans on Aug. 17, 2021. At least a half dozen were wounded, including the woman and child.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A top-down shot of men kneeling to pray with their sandals and rifles in front of them.

Taliban fighters pray next to young Afghans outside a mosque for evening prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021. In its nearly two-decade fight with the U.S., the Taliban worked at every turn to undermine the Afghan government, deriding its leaders as corrupt stooges whose forces could never protect citizens from the group’s ferocious attacks. But the Taliban is now in charge, and with power comes a daunting challenge: convincing Afghans, many of them with bitter memories of the last time the fundamentalist group ran the country, that it can govern and police as well as it can fight.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Afghani women and children sit and wait at a checkpoint.

Women and children crouch in the sweltering heat at a Taliban-controlled checkpoint near Abbey Gate, an entrance to the Kabul airport, on Aug. 25, 2021. They wait to make their way toward the British military-controlled entrance of the airport. Outside the gates, the bit of U.S.-held territory remaining in the country, bedlam became a daily event. Even those with permission to leave faced crushing crowds and uneasy Taliban fighters using truncheons, sticks, whips, rifle butts and bullets to disperse people around the airport’s environs.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Anti-Taliban protesters march, one tries to block the photographer's lens

Anti-Taliban protesters mark Afghanistan’s independence day by attempting to hoist the red, green and black national banner. They were often beaten by militant fighters, who newly controlled the streets of Kabul. About 200 people rallied toward the city center on Aug. 19, 2021, chanting “Death to Pakistan, God bless Afghanistan, long live the national flag of Afghanistan.”

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A wounded patient sleeps on a hospital bed after a suicide bomber struck the Kabul airport.

A wounded patient lies in the recovery unit at Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021. A suicide bomber from the terrorist group ISIS-K struck Kabul airport’s Abbey Gate entrance. The blast ripped through crowds of Afghans and foreign nationals. At least 170 civilians were killed in addition to 13 U.S. service personnel, and at least 200 people were wounded. The explosion complicated an already nightmarish airlift just before the U.S. deadline to remove its troops from the country.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Two men stand face to face with a man holding a rifle in the foreground.

Former Kabul Mayor Mohammad Daoud Sultanzoy, left, meets with new interim Mayor Hamdullah Namony at the Kabul Municipality office in Afghanistan on Aug. 28, 2021. “The leadership of the Taliban, most are of the age that, without mentioning to them, they feel the change in Kabul every day, because they were here when it was inhabited by less than 500,000 people,” said Daoud Sultanzoy, Kabul’s 66-year-old mayor and one of the few top officials from the bygone state to remain in his post to ease the transition to interim Mayor Namony. He referred to the Taliban’s first foray as rulers in 1996, when they entered a capital so destroyed by civil war that “dogs eating corpses were roaming the streets. Now they came to a Kabul that was intact. With all of its flaws, it was a city that had life, that was functioning, it had services, markets, an economy, so they inherited a better Kabul than they had 25 years ago.”

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Men on a minibus look out the window.

Minibus passengers look on as Taliban soldiers patrol a busy street in downtown Kabul on Aug. 26, 2021. Taliban fighters are the enforcers of Afghanistan’s new law and order, young men eager to escape the mundane business of governing and policing, who are used to the intensity of battle but also the simplicity of life in the rural provinces.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

An Afghani family is framed by the wreckage of a U.S. drone strike that killed 10 civilians including seven children.

Family members and neighbors of the Ahmadi family gather to examine the wreckage caused by a missile launched from a U.S. drone that targeted a vehicle parked inside a residential compound in the Khwaja Burgha neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 30, 2021. The U.S. military says that the air strike was meant to target ISIS-K militants and retaliate for an airport bombing carried out by the terror group. Instead, it took the lives of 10 civilians: members of Emal Ahmadi’s family, including seven children. The U.S. would eventually call the strike a “tragic mistake.”

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A military transport plane departs as Afghans stand in a field below.

A military transport plane departs overhead as Afghans hoping to leave the country wait outside the Kabul airport on Aug. 23, 2021. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan earlier in August, more than 120,000 people were airlifted out of Afghanistan in one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Afghani mourners look to the sky.

Mourners at a mass funeral look up and weep as the roar of jet engines drowns out their wails in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 30, 2021. Fighter jets circled the hilltop cemetery where members of the Ahmadi family were burying 10 of their own, seven of them children, all victims of a U.S. drone strike. A full day before the U.S. military withdrawal approached its conclusion, death continued to haunt the war-torn country. The airstrike came in the wake of an airport bombing on Aug. 26 carried out by ISIS-K militants. The U.S. military claimed initially that it was targeting an alleged Islamic extremist who posed the threat of carrying out a similar attack. A month later, it reversed its position, but the Pentagon decided no American troops would be punished. Left to grieve and wonder, Emal Ahmadi could not understand how it could be that a family could die and no one be held accountable.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A weeping woman is reflected in a window, green horsemen figurines line the sill.

Visiting for the first time since the Taliban took over the country, Laila Haidari weeps as she surveys the dismantling of what had been a “sacred place” for her: Taj Begum, a shabby-chic Puli Surkh neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 20, 2021. But fearing the Taliban’s wrath, Haidari shut down her cafe in August. The cafe, a fulcrum of Kabul’s cultural life, is a casualty of the new order ushered in by the Taliban. “It was where women, with all their wounds, could come and speak with us, and speak with each other. It gave people their lives back; it touched so many people,” said Haidari, her voice holding back sobs. “Taj Begum wasn’t just a restaurant or a business to me. It was like a cinema, a theater, a place where men and women could sing together.”

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Hands reach out from a swarm of people surrounding a bearded smiling man moving through the crowd.

Afghans clamor to greet Khalil Rahman Haqqani, a senior member of the Haqqani network, after he delivered a sermon for the first Friday prayers under Taliban rule at the Pul-i-Khishti Mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 20, 2021. The Haqqani network is a Taliban splinter group considered a terrorist organization by the United States and is one of the fiercest foes American forces spent two decades trying to vanquish in Afghanistan. Flanked by armed guards, Haqqani cradled a rifle: an American-made M-4 carbine. From the pulpit, he delivered a message that was by turns reassuring and menacing: Life under the Taliban would be different from that under the deposed national rulers he derided as weak and corrupt. “We have freed Afghanistan from Western imperialism and the infidels. Afghanistan will now be a peaceful and prosperous country, where there will be security, no corruption, and no theft,” he said. All of the country’s various ethnicities and factions, he added, were “brothers.”

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The backs of Taliban fighters illuminated red in the night, one fist raised, all of them with American gear, weaponry.

After the stroke of midnight, Taliban fighters from the Fateh Zwak unit storm into Hamid Karzai International Airport while wearing American-made uniforms and brandishing American M4 and M16 rifles and riding U.S. pickup trucks on Aug. 31, 2021. For two weeks, Kabul’s airport was the last tether to America’s control in Afghanistan, its runways the site of a frantic airlift that spirited more than 120,000 people out of the country. But there was no more of that frenzied activity on the deadline of the U.S. withdrawal, hours after the last U.S. military transport plane rumbled into the night sky, closing the chapter on a 20-year U.S. intervention that ended the way it began: with the Taliban in control of Afghanistan.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Two men bare the wounds on their back and legs.

Journalists from the Etilaat Roz newspaper, Nemat Naqdi, 28, left, and Taqi Daryabi, 22, undress to show their wounds caused by beatings from Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 8, 2021. The two were tortured while in custody after being arrested for filming a rally for women’s rights. The demonstrations came just one day after the Taliban revealed an all-male interim government made up of stalwarts with zero representation for women or ethnic minority groups, their promise of a more tolerant rule clearly broken. “They didn’t let me resist,” Daryabi said of the brutality he and his colleague suffered. He said he was shoved to the ground, tortured and beaten unconscious. He was taken to a yard and water was poured on him. He was still there when they brought Naqdi. “We were shouting that we are journalists. But they didn’t care,” Naqdi said. “I thought they were going to kill me…They kept on ridiculing us, asking if we were filming them.”

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

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