Anthony Loyd

The Times

With his fine eye for detail, a willingness to go far forward, and an ability to identify the key moments in evolving news stories, the reports from Afghanistan and Ukraine by the Times correspondent Anthony Loyd marked out milestones in the chaos of war . In the first of these three powerful reports, written from outside the city of Herat in the summer of 2021, Loyd described the fragmentation of Afghan security forces in the face of a Taliban offensive, weeks ahead of the insurgents' eventual capture of Kabul, by setting off with an ill-fated patrol of pro-government fighters through a chilling landscape of abandoned bases towards the advancing Taliban.

'No sooner had the arched gateway to Herat receded from view on the highway behind us than the omens of a war gone wrong pressed in from the desert hills through which the patrol sped,' Loyd began, seated among the fighters, minutes before the patrol ran into the Taliban. 'Radio checks to roadside outposts went unanswered. Not a single Afghan flag flew from the walls of abandoned military positions, though from one small fortress the Taliban’s white emblem had been hoisted in victory...'

Just two months later, in August, Loyd was the first Western journalist to enter Bagram air base, once the symbol of American military power in Afghanistan, this time accompanying the jubilant Taliban in their moment of victory. In its every detail, Loyd's totemic report from the base resonated with the magnitude of the US defeat. 'Maulawi Hafiz Mohibullah Muktaz, a religious leader and fighter from Kandahar aged 35, leaned back in his seat laughing, twiddled some dials on a control console, stared out across the multibillion-dollar base the size of a small city and picked up a phone to summon an imaginary jet', Loyd wrote. '“Never in our wildest dreams could we have believed we could beat a superpower like America with just our Kalashnikovs,” he beamed, staring across the two runways beneath him.'

By the time the Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Loyd had already been on the ground for weeks. In the city of Kharkiv in early March, he described the dreadful toll of civilian casualties amid the Russian bombardment. 'In Kharkiv’s hospitals the faces of war are sculpted by flying glass and burning shrapnel. Women are adorned in stitches, their skin coloured in bruises and garish green disinfectant. Wounded children stare up from their beds, listless with pain and trauma. Some weep in shock,' he wrote, in this unforgettable story. 'Artillery fire and the roar of jets overhead rattle the windows on the wards, so that fear follows them even as their injuries are treated by exhausted medical staff working back-to-back shifts. Better than any military map, it is their mutilated skin and ripped flesh that best charts the progress of the Russian campaign.'