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Reporter Kathy Gannon, photographed in Toronto on Tuesday, was shot in April.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

She remembers her body jerking as the bullets struck her. She remembers thinking it was a bomb blast until she smelled the gunpowder.

Her body pressed against her friend, sitting in the back seat of a car in an Afghan police compound, Kathy Gannon expected to die soon and tried to remain calm about it.

"I wanted to go quietly. To die gently and quietly," she recalled.

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She survived. Her friend, who lay next to her, did not. Anja Niedringhaus, an award-winning photographer, died instantly.

Ms. Gannon, her left hand almost fully severed after she was struck six times by bullets, underwent 14 operations as doctors transplanted tissue, muscle and bone from her left leg to rebuild her left arm.

This week, almost exactly eight months after a rogue Afghan officer opened fire with his AK-47 rifle at her and at Ms. Niedringhaus, Ms. Gannon is still slowly recovering and vowing she will return to Afghanistan to report once again for the Associated Press.

A native of Timmins, Ont., who still speaks fondly of her stint at the Lethbridge Herald, Ms. Gannon has reported from Central Asia for more than a quarter of a century.

"I'll go back to Afghanistan. There's no question about it," she said in an interview on Tuesday. "No crazy gunman will decide when I leave that country."

She is in Toronto to be honoured on Wednesday at a gala for Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

She will receive the Tara Singh Hayer Memorial Award in recognition for her decades of reporting from Central Asia and the Middle East.

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The gala will also feature photos by Ms. Niedringhaus, a German-born Pulitzer Prize winner.

Both women had extensive experience reporting from conflict zones. They worked together for five years, a trailblazing female duo in a country where most women have to hide their faces behind veils.

Ms. Gannon was present when the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, and she was still there when their regime fell after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

She and Ms. Niedringhaus were the first to embed with the Afghan National Army, in 2012. "We were foreigners and women at that. But not once did I feel threatened," she said, recalling that Afghan soldiers were grateful someone wanted to tell their stories.

Last April 4, the two women were in a village outside Khost, 150 kilometres southeast of Kabul, with a convoy delivering ballot boxes for the presidential election.

"I actually felt quite secure," Ms. Gannon recalled. She had always thought the worst threat was a roadside bomb. She and Ms. Niedringhaus were inside a well-guarded compound when an Afghan police commander named Naqibullah walked up to their vehicle, yelled, "Allahu Akbar," (God is Great) and opened fire.

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"We're finished this time," she thought during the 45-minute drive to a hospital in Khost. Before she was wheeled in to surgery, the Afghan doctor reassured her: "You know, your life is as important to me as it is to you."

When she woke up, she had been airlifted to Kabul. It was then she learned Ms. Niedringhaus had not survived.

"I feel very sad because Anja died, and that was very painful," she said, her voice dropping. "She died at my side. We were holding each other up when it happened."

She later learned that outgoing president Hamid Karzai had intervened to make sure she would be moved to Kabul. An Afghan diplomat called to say he was sorry she was hurt. The Taliban denied ordering the attack.

Ms. Gannon is still a long way from recovery. One shoulder does not move very well. The left hand remains bandaged. She needs more surgery. Five times a week, she visits a hand therapist while she stays with her sister in Guelph, Ont.

"There's good days and bad days, but I feel fortunate. My family has been with me," she said.

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By Christmas, she plans to return home, to reunite with her husband, an architect in Islamabad.

Afghanistan's new President, Ashraf Ghani, signed a bilateral security pact this fall that will allow a U.S. military presence into next year. The capital has been rocked by a new wave of violence. Kabul residents feel great anxiety as foreigners leave.

But, Ms. Gannon said, nothing is predictable in Afghanistan and she hopes to be there by next spring to bear witness again.

"I won't let anybody dictate to me when to leave. I'll make that decision myself."

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