Attacks on the Press 2001: Afghanistan

In recent years, it had become common for people who care about Afghanistan to worry about its growing invisibility. The all-encompassing burqa gown, which the ruling Taliban forced women to wear, seemed a metaphor for the militia’s efforts to hide Afghanistan’s people and problems from the world. Visits by foreign correspondents were restricted; taking pictures was banned. In March, authorities expelled the only Western correspondent resident in Taliban-held territory, Kate Clark of the BBC, because of her reporting on the militia’s destruction of ancient Buddhist statues in Bamiyan.

But the U.S.-led military campaign, which began on October 7, changed everything. Afghanistan–believed to harbor the man responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States, Osama bin Laden–became the world’s most important place, and the international media arrived in droves. With greater access, however, came sharply increased dangers: The threats posed by war and anarchy resulted in the deaths of eight journalists during a particularly brutal two weeks in November.

Within days after September 11, hundreds of foreign correspondents began massing along Afghanistan’s borders with Pakistan and Tajikistan to try to make their way into the country, which was widely expected to be the first target of Washington’s “war on terrorism.” The Taliban, meanwhile, ordered all foreigners, including journalists, out of the country.

An unusually large number of foreign correspondents were already in Afghanistan to cover the high-profile trial of eight foreign aid workers accused of attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity, but most left after Taliban officials warned that foreigners would not be safe if the United States attacked.

Throughout September and October, most foreign journalists entered the country from Tajikistan with the help of the opposition Northern Alliance, which had been fighting the Taliban for years for control of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, eager for the world’s attention and support, had developed a reputation for being media-friendly.

Some feared that Northern Alliance forces might view reporters with suspicion after two men posing as journalists killed their revered military commander, Ahmed Shah Massood, in a September 9 suicide bomb attack. (An Afghan journalist in the room to cover the supposed “interview” was injured in this explosion.) Alliance leaders identified the killers as Arabs whom they suspected were linked to al-Qaeda. While most foreign journalists said Alliance soldiers treated them well, Arab journalists were viewed with suspicion. In November, the Northern Alliance expelled a reporter for the Qatar-based, Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

The Taliban were largely hostile toward foreign reporters, suspecting that any Westerner in their territory was spying for the Americans or the British. Though some journalists managed to slip briefly into the country from Pakistan undetected, this proved dangerous. Between the end of September and the end of November, the Taliban arrested four journalists and their guides on suspicion of espionage. Reluctantly, the Taliban did allow a few visits for groups of foreign reporters to show off damage from U.S. air strikes, but these trips were brief and closely minded. A handful of foreign journalists were finally allowed to enter Kabul toward the end of the Taliban’s hold over the city, beginning with Kathy Gannon, Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief of The Associated Press (AP), who arrived on October 25 along with AP photographer Dimitri Messinis. Before their arrival, the most consistent source of reliable information about what was happening in Taliban territory came from local agency reporters Amir Shah of the AP, Sayed Salahuddin of Reuters, and Said Mohammad Azam of Agence France-Presse–all Afghan nationals working under tremendous pressures.

Another crucial source of information about the consequences of the U.S. bombing campaign was Al-Jazeera, the only television broadcaster in Taliban-held Afghanistan present throughout the first phase of the war. However, U.S. officials viewed the channel as antagonistic and in October asked Qatari authorities to rein in the station’s coverage. Al-Jazeera further angered the U.S. government when it became the conduit for Osama bin Laden’s occasional video statements, which were delivered to the station’s Kabul office and then broadcast internationally.

U.S. bombs destroyed Al-Jazeera’s Kabul headquarters during the early morning hours of November 13 while Taliban soldiers retreated from Kabul and Northern Alliance forces were poised to take control of the city. Though U.S. missile strikes damaged other news bureaus in the hours before Kabul fell, including those of The Associated Press and the BBC, no evidence surfaced that they were targeted. In a terse letter to Al-Jazeera dated December 6, U.S. assistant secretary of defense Victoria Clarke said that “the building we struck was a known al-Qaeda facility in central Kabul,” adding that “there were no indications that this or any nearby facility was used by Al-Jazeera.”

Generally, there was very limited media coverage of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. This was especially true during the first phase of the war, when U.S. Special Forces carried out most of the missions. Even when the Pentagon began allowing the press access to some of its ground troops at the end of November, military officials tightly circumscribed journalists’ ability to report on much of anything. Journalists based at Camp Rhino, near Kandahar, complained that their colleagues in Washington, D.C., who relied largely on official briefings for information, tended to break significant stories about U.S. action in Afghanistan.

CPJ documented several incidents in which U.S. military officials in Afghanistan violated the stated Pentagon policy of providing “maximum media coverage, and minimum hassle.” On December 5, officials at Camp Rhino prevented journalists from reporting on a “friendly fire” incident in which a misdirected American B-52 bomb killed three U.S. Special Forces soldiers and five anti-Taliban Afghan fighters. News organizations loudly protested this effort to censor coverage of the casualties and received an apology from the U.S. Defense Department.

However, on December 20, Afghan tribal fighters harassed and detained three photojournalists, apparently at the behest of U.S. Special Forces soldiers who did not want to be photographed. And on December 31, officials at the U.S. Marine base in Kandahar barred Associated Press photographer John Moore from the base after he took photographs of U.S. troops in combat gear boarding helicopters for a mission to Baghran, where Taliban leader Mullah Omar was believed to be hiding. Several major news organizations had reported on this mission, basing their stories on eyewitness accounts, statements from Afghanistan’s interim prime minister Hamid Karzai and other local authorities, and interviews with Pentagon officials. Officials did not offer an immediate justification for lifting Moore’s credentials.

Journalists reporting from U.S. military bases agreed to adhere to guidelines requiring that they refrain from coverage that could endanger service members’ lives or jeopardize the security of an operation. However, journalists said access to information about American military operations was even tighter than during the tightly scripted Persian Gulf War. U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed in principle to honor the terms of a 1992 agreement between the Pentagon and major news organizations promising that “open and independent reporting will be the principal means of coverage of U.S. military operations,” but he and other top officials routinely invoked the special nature of the war on terrorism to justify curbs on information.

Reporting outside the ambit of the U.S. military was limited only by safety considerations. On November 11, three journalists were killed when the Northern Alliance convoy they were traveling with came under Taliban fire. On November 19, a group of gunmen waylaid four journalists en route from Jalalabad and Kabul and executed them not far from the road. One week later, in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, a journalist was roused from his sleep and killed in the middle of the night by a group of robbers. Foreign journalists, with their large amounts of cash and expensive equipment, were particularly vulnerable to banditry.

At the end of November, a rumor circulated that Mullah Omar had announced a bounty of US$50,000 on the heads of Western journalists, but this was never substantiated. Stories that the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel, where many journalists were staying, had recently been targeted for a bomb attack heightened the sense of danger.

The local press, which was decimated by more than two decades of war, along with much else in the country, showed signs of reviving by year’s end. Within days of the Taliban’s retreat from Kabul, Radio Afghanistan had replaced the militia’s stern Voice of Shariah, which was used mainly to broadcast official edicts and religious pronouncements. Kabul Television also celebrated its rebirth, five years after the Taliban banned it.

Most Afghans, however, do not have access to television and have relied for years on short-wave radio broadcasts by the BBC and the Voice of America for information. A handful of print publications also resumed publication in Kabul by the end of the year, but were desperately short of resources. Few printing presses survived the decades of war, newsprint was scarce, and the electricity supply remained spotty, even in the capital.

Press freedom advocates advised donor countries and international agencies that nurturing a strong, independent local media would be far more helpful to building a sustainable peace than would foreign initiatives such as the U.S. plan to launch a Radio Free Afghanistan.

March 14

Kate Clark, BBC

Taliban authorities ordered Clark, a Kabul-based correspondent for the BBC, to leave the country within 36 hours. The expulsion came in response to BBC reports about the militia’s destruction of ancient Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, some 100 miles northwest of Kabul.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press agency published the Taliban’s statement defending Clark’s expulsion, in which the BBC is accused of “broadcasting false news about Afghanistan and vicious propaganda against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) by its enemies.” The statement took issue with a BBC report in which an American professor criticized the Taliban’s order to destroy the statues.

On March 14, CPJ circulated a news alert regarding the case.

On March 15, Clark arrived in Pakistan, where she continued to cover Afghanistan for the BBC.

September 9

Faheem Dasty, Ariana Afghan

Dasty, director of the Ariana Afghan news agency and stringer for the French television station France 2, was critically injured in the suicide bomb attack that killed Ahmed Shah Massood, the revered military commander of the Afghan Northern Alliance.

The two suicide bombers posed as journalists, and Dasty was in the room with them to cover their “interview” with Massood at his base in Khoja Bahauddin, in northern Afghanistan’s Takhar Province. One of the attackers detonated the bomb, which had apparently been strapped to their video camera, soon after beginning the interview at around 4 p.m.

The explosion fatally wounded Massood, killed a close aide, and injured Afghanistan’s ambassador to India. (At that time, most of the world still recognized the Northern Alliance leaders who ruled Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996 as the country’s legitimate government.)

One of the bombers was killed in the blast, and the other was shot by Massood’s security guards, according to Dasty.

Dasty, who spent several days in a coma, suffered severe burns, according to the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF). Dasty had worked for RSF as the group’s correspondent in the Panjshir Valley, where the Ariana Afghan news agency was based.

After receiving medical treatment in Paris, Dasty returned to Afghanistan. At the end of 2001, he was in Kabul trying to relaunch the Kabul Weekly newspaper, an RSF-sponsored project.

September 9

Foreign journalists

Taliban regime officials barred journalists covering the trial of eight foreign aid workers from leaving Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel. Authorities also searched some of the journalists’ rooms for cameras, pictures, and videotapes.

Taliban officials said they took action against the journalists for illegally photographing and videotaping the detainees. The Taliban officially banned all forms of photography on religious grounds but had relaxed these rules during major news events.

The trial of the foreign aid workers on the criminal charge of preaching Christianity began on September 4. The foreigners (two Americans, two Australians, and four Germans) were arrested in early August along with 16 Afghan colleagues from the German-based charity Shelter Now International.

In July, the Taliban announced that the penalty for a foreigner suspected of proselytizing was jail and expulsion. (Under the Taliban, Afghans who preached or converted to a religion other than Islam faced the death penalty.)

Though Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil had initially promised that the trial would take place in an open court, he later clarified that journalists, diplomats, and other outside observers would be admitted only during the “second phase” of the proceedings. As it turned out, journalists were allowed to cover the trial on September 8, when the aid workers appeared for the first time since their arrest, but were prevented from returning the next day.

On September 9, authorities briefly detained the government interpreters who were accompanying the journalists, apparently because the interpreters had not prevented the journalists from taking pictures, according to wire service reports. A Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that the interpreters had been detained, claiming they were attending a seminar, according to Agence France-Presse.

Foreign correspondents and photographers covering the aid workers’ trial were required to stay at the Intercontinental Hotel and travel in the company of an official interpreter.

Journalists had no access to the detained Afghan employees of Shelter Now, and little was known about their condition.

In a September 10 statement, CPJ condemned the Taliban’s harassment of journalists covering the trial.

September 28

Yvonne Ridley, Sunday Express

Soldiers from the ruling Taliban militia arrested Ridley, a reporter for London’s Sunday Express newspaper, along with two male Pakistani guides in a village near the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Taliban authorities initially detained Ridley in Jalalabad. On October 6, they moved her to a prison in Kabul, where she was jailed along with six of eight foreign aid workers on trial at the time for preaching Christianity, a violation of Taliban law.

Taliban officials said they arrested Ridley, who carried no travel documents and was disguised under an all-encompassing burqa gown, on suspicions that she was in the country as a spy.

Ridley said she repeatedly apologized to the Taliban for entering the country without a passport or visa. She had applied for a visa to Afghanistan several times without success, according to her newspaper, but the Taliban banned foreign correspondents from the country following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

On October 3, the Taliban’s information minister, Qudratullah Jamal, said in an interview with Reuters news agency that Ridley “must have had ill intentions” in coming to Afghanistan. “America and Britain talk of having their special forces in Afghanistan. She could be one of those special forces,” Jamal said.

On October 4, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), a Pakistan-based news agency closely linked to the Taliban, quoted the Taliban’s deputy foreign minister Mullah Abdur Rahman Zahid as saying, “She will be tried because she broke the laws of our land and entered the country without permission.”

Zahid went on to remark that officials would “determine if she is really a journalist or [if] she had some other intentions.”

Under the Taliban, anyone found guilty of spying faced a possible death sentence.

However, on October 6, hours after British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Pakistan, the AIP quoted a Taliban official as saying Ridley would be released. “Taliban leader [Mullah Mohammad Omar] issued the order following the British government’s request for her release,” said Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef had been involved in negotiations for days with consular officials at the British High Commission, as well as with a delegation sent by Northern and Shell, publishers of the Express newspapers.

Late on the evening of October 8, Taliban escorts drove Ridley to the Pakistani border crossing at Torkham, near Peshawar, and handed her over to Pakistani officials. In an account of her ordeal published on October 9 in the daily Express, Ridley said that pressure from Pakistani and British officials helped win her freedom.

In her Express article, Ridley wrote that she began a hunger strike the day of her arrest after she was denied access to a telephone.

Ridley reported that from her prison cell in Kabul she could clearly see bombs dropping on the evening of October 7, the first night of U.S.-led air strikes against Afghanistan.

Commenting on her decision to go to Afghanistan, Ridley wrote, “It was not a silly stunt, I was trying to find out what Afghans thought about the situation.”

After her release, Ridley was taken first to Peshawar and then to Islamabad, where she was in the care of the British High Commission. She left Islamabad for London on October 9.

CPJ issued several statements calling on the Taliban to release Ridley and her two Pakistani guides, Gul Muhmand and Jan Ali. After the Taliban retreated from Kabul in late November, Muhmand and Ali were released and returned to Pakistan.

October 9

Michel Peyrard, Paris Match
Mukkaram Khan, Nawa-i-Waqt

Peyrard, a reporter for the French weekly Paris Match, was arrested with Khan and Mohammad Irfan, both Pakistani nationals, about 20 miles outside the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Khan, a correspondent for the national Urdu-language daily Nawa-i-Waqt, and Irfan, an administrator at an Islamic school in Peshawar, were working as Peyrard’s guides when he entered Afghanistan under the cover of a head-to-toe burqa gown.

Soon after the three were arrested, Taliban intelligence chief Mullah Taj Meer told the Afghan Islamic Press, a Pakistan-based news agency with close links to the Taliban, that the three men had been caught with “spying equipment,” including a satellite phone, and would be tried for espionage.

A Pakistani journalist who visited the detainees in Jalalabad in mid-October said all three were being held in a large house and were in good health, according to Paris Match managing editor Olivier Royant, who was in Islamabad working for their release.

Peyrard has worked at Paris Match since 1983 and has reported from Kosovo and Chechnya, as well as from Kuwait during the Gulf War.

On November 3, Taliban officials escorted Peyrard to the Torkham border crossing in northwest Pakistan, where he was met by Pakistani officials and the French ambassador to Pakistan. Though the reasons for his release were unclear, it came after lengthy negotiations between French government officials, Paris Match representatives, and the Taliban.

On November 10, the Taliban released Irfan and escorted him to the Torkham border crossing. He was briefly detained by Pakistani officials before being released. Khan was released on November 12 and returned to Pakistan.

CPJ issued several statements calling for the release of the three men.

October 22

Daigen Yanagida, free-lancer

Yanagida was arrested in the Afghan town of Asadabad, near the border with Pakistan, and was brought to Jalalabad for questioning, according to Japanese and international news sources.

The free-lance journalist was arrested on suspicion of illegal entry into Afghanistan. On October 29, he spoke by telephone with a Japanese colleague in Pakistan and said he was detained but well treated.

Yanagida was based in Nairobi, Kenya, but traveled extensively around the world. According to his family, he left Japan on October 15 after notifying a Tokyo publishing company that he intended to write a book about Afghanistan.

On October 27, the Taliban Foreign Ministry warned that all foreigners entering the country without proper papers would face “serious measures,” including spying charges, according to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), a Pakistan-based news agency with close ties to the Taliban. Under Taliban law, espionage was punishable by death.

Yanagida was released on November 16, after Taliban forces abandoned Jalalabad. On his way to the Pakistani border, he was detained at a checkpoint by local anti-Taliban Pashtun forces because he was not carrying a passport (it had been confiscated by Taliban authorities).

Yanagida was sent back to Jalalabad, where he stayed in the residence of a local leader sympathetic to former Afghan king Zahir Shah, according to international news reports. On November 17, Yanagida again left Jalalabad for Pakistan. He returned to Japan on November 19.

November 7

Ali Al-Arab, Al-Jazeera

Northern Alliance soldiers expelled Al-Arab, a reporter for the influential Arabic-language news channel Al-Jazeera, from Afghanistan. An Al-Jazeera source told CPJ that soldiers escorted Al-Arab to the Tajik border and advised the reporter to return “in a time of peace.”

Al-Arab said later on Al-Jazeera that he was not given any official expulsion order but “was told from the moment I arrived that Arabs are not welcome in Northern Alliance areas,” according to a translation of the report broadcast by the BBC.

On September 9, two men posing as Arab journalists detonated a bomb that killed the Northern Alliance’s revered military commander, Ahmed Shah Massood. An Al-Jazeera source said the station had not had a reporter in alliance-held territory since Massood’s assassination.

Soldiers expelled Al-Arab despite the fact that he had obtained a valid visa from the Afghan embassy in Dushanbe, which was controlled by the opposition government led by Northern Alliance president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

November 11

Gary Skurka, free-lancer

Skurka, a free-lance television producer on assignment for the documentary program “National Geographic Explorer,” was wounded by shrapnel while he, USA Today reporter Tim Friend, and aid worker Greg Long were watching an exchange of fire between Taliban and Northern Alliance troops on the front line near Kalakata.

Skurka suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs from a Taliban shell that hit just below where the three men were sitting, according to an account by Friend published in USA Today. Skurka was immediately rushed to a field hospital in Khoja Bahauddin and then transferred to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, according to sources at National Geographic Television. After treatment, he was released from the hospital and was expected to make a full recovery.

Friend was not injured in the incident, but Long suffered a concussion. Skurka had been in Afghanistan for about two weeks to film a documentary about relief workers.

Johanne Sutton, Radio France Internationale
Pierre Billaud, Radio Télévision Luxembourg
Volker Handloik, free-lancer

Sutton, a reporter for Radio France Internationale; Billaud, a reporter for Radio Télévision Luxembourg; and Handloik, a free-lance reporter on assignment for the German news magazine Stern, were killed on the evening of November 11 when Taliban forces fired on a Northern Alliance military convoy.

The reporters were among a group of six journalists who were riding with Northern Alliance soldiers in an armored personnel carrier (APC). The soldiers were advancing toward Taliban positions near the city of Taloqan, the capital of Takhar Province and the Alliance’s former headquarters.

Taliban forces opened fire on the convoy and hit the APC carrying the journalists with a rocket-propelled grenade. The jolt from the grenade’s impact caused some people to fall off the tank while others may have jumped off. It was unclear whether the journalists who died were killed in the cross fire, or whether Taliban soldiers later executed at least two of them.

Three journalists survived the attack: Paul McGeough, a reporter for the Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald; Véronique Rebeyrotte, a reporter for France Culture radio; and Levon Sevunts, a reporter for the Montreal Gazette.

November 13


During the early morning hours of November 13, U.S. aircraft dropped two 500-pound bombs on the building housing the Arabic-language television station Al-Jazeera, according to a U.S. Central Command spokesperson.

No Al-Jazeera staff were in the building at the time of the bombing, which destroyed the facilities.

In a letter to Al-Jazeera dated December 6, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke made no apology for the bombing and stated that “the building we struck was a known al-Qaeda facility in central Kabul.” (Al-Qaeda is the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect behind the September 11 attacks against the United States.)

“There were no indications this or any nearby facility was used by Al-Jazeera,” Clarke added.

Al-Jazeera’s Kabul bureau was located in a residential neighborhood and was used solely by Al-Jazeera staff, according to sources at the station. Al-Jazeera had occupied the same building in Kabul for nearly two years, and the location of its office was well known to local residents, including members of the diplomatic community. The building, which housed three satellite dishes on its roof, was clearly identifiable as a broadcast facility.

On January 31, 2002, CPJ sent a letter to U.S. secretary of defense Donald H. Rumsfeld requesting information about the circumstances behind the bombing.

November 19

Azizullah Haidari, Reuters
Harry Burton, Reuters Television
Julio Fuentes, El Mundo
Maria Grazia Cutuli, Corriere della Sera

Haidari, an Afghan-born photographer for the Reuters news agency; Burton, an Australian cameraman for Reuters; Fuentes, a Spanish correspondent for the Madrid-based newspaper El Mundo; and Cutuli, an Italian correspondent for the Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera, were killed by a group of gunmen who ambushed their convoy.

The journalists were traveling through eastern Nangarhar Province at the head of a convoy of about eight vehicles when they were stopped by a group of armed men near the town of Sarobi, some 55 miles (90 kilometers) east of Kabul. Gunmen dragged the four journalists out of two of the front cars and executed them using Kalashnikov rifles, according to a driver and translator who were allowed to flee and later spoke to reporters.

On the morning of November 20, the bodies were brought to Jalalabad, where colleagues identified them.

Although an anti-Taliban coalition in Jalalabad had chosen a new governor for Nangarhar that weekend, local authorities had not secured full control over the province.

November 22

Foreign journalists

About 100 foreign journalists were expelled from Afghanistan by Taliban officials after being invited to visit areas of the country still under Taliban control.

On November 20, the journalists entered Spin Boldak, a town near the Pakistani border, after obtaining 10-day visas from the Taliban. The reporters were allowed to visit a refugee camp and were invited to Kandahar, the Taliban’s southern stronghold.

However, on November 22, before bringing the journalists to Kandahar, Taliban officials suddenly notified them that they had 90 minutes to pack their belongings and leave. The journalists were then escorted to the Pakistani border town of Chaman.

The reason for the expulsion was unclear. A New York Times journalist present reported that the order followed a debate between moderate and hard-line Taliban officials over whether the journalists should be allowed to stay. Other reporters suggested that Taliban officials no longer felt they could protect Western journalists from Afghan crowds angered by the intensified U.S. bombing campaign.

November 24

Andrea Catherwood, ITN

Catherwood, a reporter for the British television news network ITN, was injured by shrapnel from a grenade that a Taliban soldier set off outside the Qalai Jhangi fort near Mazar-e-Sharif, according to the ITN press office in London.

The explosion occurred while Northern Alliance soldiers were searching Taliban troops who had recently surrendered.

Catherwood was standing about 10 yards (9 meters) away from the Taliban soldier when he detonated a hand grenade, killing himself, two other Taliban fighters, and a Northern Alliance official standing nearby. Catherwood received shrapnel wounds in the leg; her translator was also injured.

November 25

Ken Hechtman, free-lancer

Hechtman, a free-lancer who contributed articles to the weekly Montreal Mirror and the Web site, was detained by Taliban authorities just after arriving in the border town of Spin Boldak.

Hechtman later described the initial round of interrogations as “friendly” but said the mood changed when U.S. air strikes hit the area, because Taliban officials suspected that the Americans had dispatched him to guide the attacks.

The Taliban had largely barred foreign journalists from areas under their control during this phase of the war, and Hechtman did not have a visa for travel to Afghanistan.

Hechtman, who had been shuttled between the office of a local commander and the Taliban Foreign Office for most of the day, was then taken to the home of someone he identified as the “city commander, who doubled as the city judge.” The judge questioned him for two hours and then sent him to the city jail pending an investigation.

Hechtman was kept shackled in a cell with other prisoners and was threatened at gunpoint. After the second day, Hechtman managed to convince the jailer to send a relative to Pakistan with news about the journalist’s detention. On November 27, Mohammedzai, the jailer’s cousin, approached two Western journalists in the Pakistani border town of Chaman and told them that Taliban soldiers were holding Hechtman and had threatened to kill him if they did not receive a ransom.

Hechtman later said the Taliban had never demanded a ransom. The journalists alerted Canadian authorities immediately, and international news media carried the story widely. Taliban officials were eventually persuaded to release Hechtman on December 1, after meetings with Canadian diplomats and Pakistani government representatives.

November 26

Ulf Strömberg, TV4

Strömberg, a cameraman for the Swedish channel TV4, was murdered in the early morning during a robbery at the house in Taloqan where he and several other journalists were staying.

At around 2 a.m., armed gunmen broke into the house and entered the room where two journalists from the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet were sleeping. The intruders demanded money, which they were given, and also stole equipment including cameras, computers, and a satellite phone, according to Aftonbladet.

The robbers threatened to kill the two journalists–Martin Adler, a photographer, and Bo Liden, a correspondent–but left the room after an Afghan translator intervened on their behalf, according to a Reuters report. The gunmen then proceeded to the room Strömberg was sharing with his TV4 colleague Rolf Porseryd, a correspondent. Porseryd told reporters that Strömberg went to the door and slammed it shut when he saw the gunmen, who fired several shots before fleeing.

Strömberg, 42, was apparently hit in the chest by a bullet fired through the door. Though colleagues rushed him to a local hospital, his wounds were fatal.

December 5

The Associated Press
Associated Press Television News
The Baltimore Sun
CBS News
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post

U.S. military officials at Camp Rhino, a Marine base in southern Afghanistan, prevented journalists from reporting on a “friendly fire” incident in which a misdirected American B-52 bomb killed three U.S. Special Forces soldiers and five anti-Taliban Afghan fighters.

Journalists from 11 U.S. news organizations were confined to a warehouse while injured soldiers were transferred to the base for treatment. That night, the journalists were pulled out of Afghanistan altogether.

The reporters, who entered the Marine base on November 25, were the first journalists permitted to accompany U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan. Under terms agreed upon with the Pentagon, the journalists were required to pool their reports with other news media.

Jonathan Wolman, executive editor of The Associated Press (AP), told the AP that Defense Department policy “allows for coverage of casualties, but it was subverted in this case.”

Jill Abramson, the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, said: “This was a gross abuse of the ground rules for the press pool. It is very difficult to understand what operational security issues would have been violated by allowing the reporters access to the efforts to recover and evacuate the wounded.”

On December 6, Victoria Clarke, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, sent a letter to Washington bureau chiefs of major news organizations saying “we owe you an apology” for the “severe shortcomings” in the way the Pentagon treated the news media. She pledged that the Defense Department was committed to providing “maximum media coverage with minimal delay and hassle.”

December 20

David Guttenfelder, The Associated Press
Joao Silva, The New York Times
Tyler Hicks, The New York Times

Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer for The Associated Press (AP), and Silva and Hicks, both photographers for The New York Times, were taking pictures of American Special Operations forces in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan when an Afghan interpreter working for the U.S. soldiers asked them to stop.

The photographers complied with the request and were driving toward a nearby village when a group of Afghan tribal fighters intercepted them.

“They pointed their guns at us, took off the safeties, pulled out the bayonets and pointed them in our faces in the car,” Guttenfelder told the AP. “We didn’t know what was going on. We thought they were bandits.”

The Afghan fighters forced the journalists to accompany them to a base camp, where they seized their cameras, computers, and other belongings. The photographers noticed two American soldiers in the area and called out for help.

The soldiers came over but refused to assist the journalists. According to Guttenfelder’s account, one soldier said, “We know what journalists are trying to do, but we had to do this because taking our pictures puts us in danger.”

Guttenfelder told the soldiers that any pictures that compromised the American forces’ security could simply be deleted from their digital cameras and asked them to intervene with the Afghan fighters. “We have no more control over them than you do,” one of the soldiers said. As they walked away, one soldier added, “Don’t worry, they won’t kill you,” according to Guttenfelder.

The Afghan fighters detained the journalists for more than an hour before releasing them and returning their money and equipment. However, the fighters confiscated memory discs containing pictures of the American soldiers.

The Pentagon, which had openly discussed the presence of American Special Forces in Tora Bora, pledged to cooperate with the media “as long as operational security is not hindered, people’s lives are not put at risk, and we are not revealing classified information,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke.

“We strongly protest this action and have asked the Pentagon to immediately investigate the matter,” said AP vice president and executive photo editor Vin Alabiso.

December 31

John Moore, The Associated Press

United States military officials in Kandahar banned Moore, an AP photographer, from the military base there after he took photographs of American troops in combat gear boarding helicopters in preparation for a mission.

On December 31, the AP reported that, “Combat-ready U.S. Marines launched a mission Monday to capture Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, thought to be hiding in the remote mountains of central Afghanistan.” The first story carried Moore’s byline, along with that of reporter Matt Kelley.

Several major news organizations carried similar versions of the story based on eyewitness accounts, statements from Afghan interim prime minister Hamid Karzai and other local authorities, and interviews with Pentagon officials.

However, officials from the U.S. Central Command dismissed reports of the deployment as “completely wrong.” Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a top spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying, “No one has gone anywhere. They’re flat wrong.” He reportedly added, “There’ve been no helos flying from Kandahar,” and “There are no Marines who have left Kandahar.” Another Central Command spokesperson, Air Force Maj. Bill Harrison, said, “We know there is no such operation going on.”

At a press conference on January 2, 2002, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that U.S. Marines had been deployed from Kandahar but said that the units were seeking information, not specific individuals. At the same briefing, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke admitted that official responses to the reports had been confusing.

When asked whether a photographer had been banned from the U.S. military base in Kandahar, Clarke said, “Not that I know of.”

The Associated Press requested that the U.S. military restore Moore’s press credentials for the base.