'NY Times' reporter escapes Taliban

David Rohde and Afghan reporter climbed over wall of compound where they were held since November.

By
June 21, 2009 07:42
'NY Times' reporter escapes Taliban

David Rohde 248 88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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A New York Times reporter known for making investigative trips deep inside dangerous conflict zones escaped from militant captors after more than seven months in captivity by climbing over a wall, the newspaper said Saturday. David S. Rohde was abducted November 10 along with an Afghan reporter colleague and a driver south of the Afghan capital, Kabul. He had been traveling through Logar province to interview a Taliban commander, but was apparently intercepted and taken by other militants on the way. The Times reported that Rohde and Afghan reporter Tahir Ludin on Friday climbed over the wall of a compound where they were held captive in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. The two then found a Pakistani army scout, who led them to a nearby base, the Times said. On Saturday, the two were flown to the US military base in Bagram, the Times reported. A US military spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, said the military had not been involved. She could not say whether the State Department or CIA had flown the two to the military facility. Rohde, reported to be in good health, said his driver remained with their captors. In Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the US is "very pleased" that Rohde is safe and returning home. He said the escape "marks the end of a long and difficult ordeal." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton thanked the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan for their assistance in ensuring Rohde's safe return. She said she was "greatly relieved" that he was safe and would be reuniting soon with his family. Afghan officials confirmed the kidnapping in the days after the abduction, but The Associated Press and most other Western news outlets respected a request from the Times to not report on the abductions because the publicity could negatively affect hostage rescue efforts and imperil Rohde's life. "From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David's family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages. The kidnappers initially said as much," Bill Keller, the Times' executive editor, said in a story posted on the Times' Web site. "We decided to respect that advice, as we have in other kidnapping cases, and a number of other news organizations that learned of David's plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support." "We are very relieved that our New York Times colleague escaped safely, and this episode has ended happily," said AP Senior Managing Editor John Daniszewski. "It was an unusual and difficult news judgment to withhold reporting on his abduction, but our practice is to avoid transmitting stories if we believe they endanger someone's life." The Times said there had been "sporadic communication" from Rohde and his kidnappers during the last seven months but that no ransom money had been paid. Kristen Mulvihill, Rohde's wife, told the Times that the two had been married for nine months, "and seven of those David has been in captivity." She thanked the Times, the US government and "all the others" who helped the family during the kidnapping. The FBI said in a statement that it had been investigating Rohde's kidnapping, working closely with the Times and Rohde's family. It said Rohde contacted family members Friday to tell them he had escaped. The FBI said it was working with the US State and Defense departments to see that receives medical attention and is reunited with his family. Rohde was on leave from the Times when he was taken. He had traveled to Afghanistan to work on a book about the history of American involvement in Afghanistan when he went to Logar to interview a Taliban commander. Before setting out, he notified the Times' bureau in Kabul on whom to notify if he did not return, the Times said. Logar province, where Rohde was seized, has seen an influx of militants over the last two years. Residents last year said the government had little control outside the provincial capital and that Taliban and other militants frequently set up checkpoints on highways. In January, the US military deployed more than 3,000 troops to Logar and neighboring Wardak to combat the insurgent safe havens near Kabul's doorstep. It was not clear who took Rohde captive, and the Times did not reveal his abductors. Logar province has militants loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Omar but also to renegade warlord Siraj Haqqani, whom the US has accused of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings. Violence has risen steadily across Afghanistan over the last three years, and Rohde was taken during a period when attacks against Westerners spiked. A Canadian journalist, Mellissa Fung, was kidnapped in Kabul and a Dutch reporter was taken just outside Kabul around the time Rohde was abducted. Both were released within a month. The militants who kidnapped Rohde transferred him about 165 kilometers southeast to Pakistan's North Waziristan region. The Pakistan government said in a statement earlier this year that Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had asked for its help in obtaining Rohde's release. Holbrooke, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President George W. Bush's secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, were actively involved in seeking Rohde's release. Rohde's father, Harvey Rohde, told the Times that he regretted that his son had made the trip but that he understood his motivation "to get both sides of the story, to have his book honestly portray not just the one side but the other side as well." Rohde was part of the Times reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in May for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan last year. He also won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting while working for The Christian Science Monitor for reporting on the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. During that time, Rohde was taken prisoner by Serbian officials and held for 10 days, during which he was deprived of sleep and interrogated relentlessly, according to a Web page on Rohde created by journalism students at Columbia University. Serb officials accused him of being a NATO spy, the page says. The Columbia site says Rohde knew the reporting trip would be dangerous and that his editors would likely not allow him to make it. So he sent his editors an e-mail that he knew they would receive too late to stop the trip, the site says. When he was released, he was greeted by many cameras at the airport, which he did not like, his older brother, Lee Rohde, told the Times. "The last thing he ever wants is to be the story. He's supposed to be the storyteller," Lee Rohde said. Rohde is the author of "Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica."

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