Azmat Khan is an investigative reporter, a New York Times Magazine Contributing Writer, a fellow at New America, and a Visiting Professor at Columbia University.
Her accountability reporting for the PBS series FRONTLINE, The New York Times Magazine, and other outlets has earned the National Magazine Award for Reporting, the Overseas Press Club Award Ed Cunningham Award, the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting on South Asia, the Deadline Club Award for Magazine Investigative Reporting, the Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism, and other honors.
"Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014."
U.S. military officials say the anti-ISIS air war in Iraq and Syria is the most precise aerial campaign in the history of warfare. But an on-the-ground investigation by Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal for The New York Times Magazine reveals that the air war has been significantly less precise than the U.S.-led coalition claims.
The investigation uncovered that one in five of the coalition strikesidentified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. The reporting revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names. (The investigation was also the subject of a three-part podcast series on The Daily, produced by Annie Brown. Listen to Part I, Part II, and Part III.)
Within a week of publication, the investigation prompted immediate response. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont called on the Department of Defense to make payments to civilian survivors of U.S. combat operations and to commission a panel of civilian casualty documentation experts to conduct a review of intelligence and targeting procedures. And the New York Times Editorial Board called on Congress to demand true accountability & transparency on civilian casualties, because “Americans need to understand the full cost and consequences of military actions undertaken in their names.” Ultimately, the investigation resulted in a shift in sentiment among officials in the Department of Defense and the first Congressionally-mandated standards for civilian casualty policy, passed in Section 936 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019
+ 2018 National Magazine Award for Reporting
JUDGES: "Meticulously reported and movingly told, this investigation of the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State found that far more civilians had been killed by airstrikes than the Pentagon would acknowledge. The judges deemed this a stunning and important work of journalism."
+ 2018 Overseas Press Club Ed Cunningham Award
JUDGES: "Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal spent almost two years visiting about 150 bomb sites in northern Iraq, often at great personal risk, for this powerful story that showed civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes were considerably higher than previously reported. With a compelling main character in Bassim Razzo, whose home and family in Mosul were obliterated, indefatigable sleuthing by Khan and Gopal that challenged U.S. statistics, and an impressive use of photography and videography, “The Uncounted” provided a horrifying accounting of the true cost of America’s war."
+ 2018 Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism
JUDGES: "In one of the world’s deadliest war zones, reporters Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal teamed up to investigate, document, and report the true civilian death toll of the U.S.-led war against ISIS. Their shocking findings revealed that the number of civilian deaths due to airstrikes is largely underreported by the American-led coalition, and that there has been a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims or to make previously mandated “sympathy payments” to survivors. ... Khan and Gopal’s disturbing findings are the result of two years spent in Iraq producing the data themselves through hard, on the ground reporting. They visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, family members, intelligence informants, and local officials. They photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. They built sophisticated databases and maps based on hundreds of points they visited in order to compare their data against the coalition’s numbers. It was a level of research that had never been conducted before – not by the U.S. government, the United Nations nor any NGO. ... The overall result is an investigation into the U.S.-led air war against ISIS that is unlike any other. These journalists stepped up to do what the governments and institutions did not."
+ Deadline Club Award for Magazine Investigative Reporting
JUDGES: "The Uncounted' was a standout effort that earned a unanimous vote as best in class. This impressive piece of journalism was essentially an intelligence gathering effort, with the authors fusing data from a variety of sources to account for many unacknowledged civilian deaths caused by the US bombing campaign against Islamic State in northern Iraq. Door-to-door reporting in war-ravaged Mosul provided intelligence even the US military seemed to lack, as it conducted what it called “the most precise air campaign in history.” Khan and Gopal proved otherwise in prose both gripping and revelatory. By building the broader story around the narrative of one particular victim, the authors drew readers in and kept them rapt. We also appreciated videos and other graphical elements, in the electronic version of the story, that could have come from a Pentagon briefing and enhanced the reader’s understanding of the story. Taut and vivid, this is the best piece of journalism the judges have encountered in a considerable while."
+ 2018 One World Media Print Award
JUDGES: "This piece of work set out to prove the inconsistencies between the reported number of civilian deaths by US drones in Iraq, and the actual number. It was an ambitious project spanning two years of work, but it achieved not only an exclusive revelation that uncovered a deep injustice whereby people are being needlessly killed, not compensated and worse, deemed sympathisers with ISIS until proven innocent, but it sparked a change in how the US deals with such casualties. We were deeply impressed at how meticulously and tirelessly the reporters worked to uncover facts and speak to people on the ground, but also how they gained access to the US military. There was excellent use of multi-media throughout. It is a long read but compelling from paragraph to paragraph, beautifully told, and no one can failed to be moved by the story of Basim Razzo, who lost his wife and daughter, and is the key protagonist in the feature. This set the gold standard for how this type of journalism should be covered.”
"The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype. ... What went wrong is a story of overhyping in Washington, of noble intentions going astray in a society America did not understand, and of the pitfalls of using humanitarian aid and 'soft power' to support military and political goals."
Throughout America’s long, bloody, and frustrating war in Afghanistan, the U.S. government has trumpeted one shining victory: education. Azmat Khan set out across Afghanistan — starting in the birthplace of the Taliban — and worked her way around battlefield provinces to investigate those claims, the first time any member of the media had done so. Based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews, the investigation found that in the areas where most U.S. funding was concentrated — territories that were key to winning the war — American efforts have fallen woefully short of the grand claims the government made, claims that it knew were false.
After publication, reaction was swift: Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania wrote USAID officials to say he was “particularly disturbed” by the findings, and asked the agency for detailed monitoring and evaluation plans. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction cited the report in its semiannual report to Congress. And in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani appointed a nine-member commission to investigate corruption in the Ministry of Education.
The investigation was awarded the 2016 Deadline Club Award for Independent Digital Reporting, SAJA's 2016 Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting on South Asia, recognized as a Livingston Award finalist in International Reporting and by ProPublica as one of the best investigations of 2015. It was also translated & published in Japanese.
JUDGES: "The United States trumpets education – particularly of girls – as one of its key victories during the war in Afghanistan. But Azmat Khan’s exhaustive reporting reveals otherwise. Many of the schools Khan visited during her investigation for BuzzFeed News have never seen a single student or teacher. In a category dominated by big-team reporting, the judges were especially impressed by Khan’s initiative as a solo practitioner. In fact, she was the first member of the Western media to follow the trail of a billion-plus dollars spent by the U.S. on education-related funding in Afghanistan, piecing together a well-written narrative from contractors, aid workers and warlords. Khan also conducted more than 150 interviews for her piece, many of them on-the-ground in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The payoff? Khan’s work had a clear impact, prompting detailed monitoring of USAID as well as a commission to investigate corruption in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education."
What does it look like when a government drops bombs on its own people?
For PBS FRONTLINE, Azmat Khan produced this 36-minute immersive film taking viewers inside in the village of Al Bara as Syrian jets drop bombs on homes 300 meters away from filmmaker Olly Lambert. You'll witness the chaos on the ground as villagers try to rescue family and friends trapped under the rubble, the bombing’s effect on ordinary civilians whose lives literally have just been blown apart, the palpable fear when the government jets return for a second bombing run, and the ensuing calls for revenge that illustrate the country’s descent into chaos.
The film was nominated for a 2014 Emmy Award in New Approaches to Documentary Film.
In this video investigation, Azmat Khan uncovers the least visible victim's in Detroit's bankruptcy, a group of creditors who stand to become casualties of the city twice-over, through no fault of their own, and with little means to do anything about it. At its core, this is a story about power and high-stakes dealing, with dramatic consequences for the lives of ordinary people. Watch or read the investigation.
In January 2011, millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest Hosni Mubarak's regime. On the ground for PBS FRONTLINE, Azmat Khan field produced an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood's underreported role in this revolution, and its profound social influence in the country. The resulting film, The Brothers, and its related digital coverage, Revolution in Cairo, received an Emmy award for Outstanding Coverage of a Breaking News Story in a News Magazine, as well as an Overseas Press Club citation for Best Online Coverage of Breaking News.
As Yemen emerged as the breeding grounds for some of the most high-profile plans to attack the U.S. homeland, FRONTLINE journeyed to the south of the country for the film Al Qaeda In Yemen to explore how Al Qaeda and affiliated militants had seized control of territory there — and were winning popular support. Her reporting also included:
Few understand how Yemen became an Al Qaeda stronghold, or how America’s escalating war in the country is playing out on the ground. Turning to 11 Yemen experts across a variety of disciplines, this definitive primer charts the rise of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the central debates surrounding its ascent.
Since 2009, the U.S. ramped up a campaign of air strikes in Yemen. This interactive map plots every known U.S. strike in Yemen over the last decade, visualizing important trends the program's escalation.
Every day headlines highlight Yemen’s growing Al Qaeda threat, the terror plots to attack the U.S. homeland hatched from within its borders and America’s escalating campaign of air strikes in the country. But some of Yemen’s biggest challenges — many of which helped spark its democracy protests in 2011 — are largely absent from Western media. More conventional domestic and economic issues may define Yemen’s stability, and in doing so define regional and global security. From severe droughts to secessionist movements and proxy war, these are four of Yemen’s biggest problems few Americans ever hear about.
Under the unprecedented spotlight on campus assault, there has been virtually no public attention on how universities handle reports of sexual violence from the millions of students with disabilities. Azmat Khan spent months investigating the issue to reveal important gaps in how colleges respond.
The investigation gained significant traction within disability communities, and was re-printed in Deaf Life Magazine as the July 2015 cover story. It also sparked a broader national conversation, becoming a staple resource regularly cited by government agencies, universities, and disability and Title IX rights organizations.
An estimated 5 million Brazilian women under the age of 40 have had at least one abortion. Because abortion is only allowed legally in select circumstances, an overwhelming majority of these women terminate their pregnancies illegally — risking prison, serious health consequences, social stigma and even death. But in a desperate attempt to get a safe abortion, Juliana did something different: She falsely reported rape. Her chilling saga is a rare window into some of the difficult choices Brazilian women are forced to make when trying to end a pregnancy in the country with the largest Roman Catholic population in the world.
In August 2011, 28-year-old Iranian-American and former Marine Amir Hekmati disappeared in Tehran. Months later he appeared on Iranian state television confessing to be a CIA spy. This is the story of how a boy from born in Flagstaff, Ariz., who was raised in Nebraska and Michigan, and who served his country for four years wound up in Iran’s notorious Evin prison -- and his family's intense struggle to bring him home.
Azmat Khan also reported and produced a series of written, video, and interactive projects for half a dozen FRONTLINE films investigating the Syrian war, including:
In the Orontes river valley, Alawite and Sunni neighbors who lived together peacefully for generations have turned on one another. In this interactive map — the first ever to plot the sectarian makeup of the valley — I tell the story of the people who live and fight on both sides of the frontline, neighbors now divided by religion, ideology and the river that runs between them.
The Alawites: Syria's Secretive Ruling Minority Sect | What Is Al Qaeda Doing In Syria? | Syria's Engame | How The World Stacks Up On Syria | A Guide To Sanctions On Syria | Syria's Shocking Civilian Death Toll | Syria's Fragmented Opposition
For the FRONTLINE films Top Secret America, Are We Safer?, and The Man Behind The Mosque, Khan documented the post-9/11 domestic counterterrorism industrial complex. From new surveillance programs and suspicious activity reporting initiatives, to law enforcement "Muslim outreach" and Mosque-building backlash, here is a selection of her reporting.
"Suspicious Activity"—Really? | Boston Airport Tests ‘Chat Downs’ to Detect Suspicious Activity | Mall of America Shoppers Find Themselves Ensnared in the War on Terror | Senate Report: Massive Post-9/11 Surveillance Apparatus A “Waste" | “Top Secret America” Price Tag at Record High | The Anthrax Investigation | The FBI Files: 10 Years Later, A Lens on a Changing Agency | “Top Secret America” After the Boston Bombings | ACLU Pushes for Info on Digital Tracking | FBI Criticized for Collecting Racial and Ethnic Data | Docs Reveal FBI Used Muslim Outreach As Guise to Collect Intel | AP Documents Expansion of NYPD into “Domestic CIA” | New Evidence of NYPD’s Controversial Spy Unit | NYPD Eyed Shia Muslims Based on Religion | NYPD Secretly Monitored City’s Muslim “Partners” | FBI Training Materials: Mainstream Muslims Are Violent, Radical | Who Is the Man Behind the Mosque? | Proposed NYC Islamic Center to Open Temporary Space | Rent Dispute Threatens Plans for Controversial NY Mosque and Community Center | America and Muslims: By the Numbers | Ashura, the Unique Face of Shia Islam
And find more of Khan’s reporting for the following FRONTLINE films: