Captured by the Taliban

Article excerpt

Byline: Jere Van Dyk

Since the terror attacks of 2001, no Western reporter has crossed into the tribal areas that line the Pakistan-Afghanistan divide. I thought I could be the one. Now in my 60s, I had spent my adult life working and traveling in the region, catching my first glimpse from the front seat of an old Volkswagen on a cross-country trip through the borderlands in the 1970s. After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, I hiked into the mountains and lived with the mujahedin as they fought for their independence. I wrote a book about my experiences and, after 9/11, I returned several times on assignment for CBS News.

The region attracts quixotic types--in mid-June, a Colorado construction worker was arrested for hunting -Osama bin Laden with a 40-inch sword--but my goals were more pragmatic. I wanted to find out what the American and Pakistani governments either couldn't know or weren't telling us. I wanted to learn the truth about the Taliban, Al Qaeda--and maybe bin Laden, too. And I was on contract to write a book based on my findings.

When I arrived in Kabul in August 2007, I began to disguise myself as Pashtun--the largest ethnic group in the region--and find my old mujahedin friends in the mountains. I avoided Westerners, fasted for Ramadan, and grew my beard. Since I knew the local customs for how to dress, how to eat, and how to look (and look away) at a man, I almost never attracted a second glance. Aside from an old pair of Timberland boots, mostly hidden by my robe, language was the only thing that could give me away.

During the next five months, I made three successful trips into the tribal -areas, crisscrossing the rust-colored land and accomplishing one of my goals. I connected with the Taliban four times, and traveled once to Chitral, where many feel bin Laden is hiding. I didn't want to be anywhere else in the world, but I was also afraid. After each foray, I returned to Kabul worrying more and more about who might be following me. …