Excellent News

by Joshua Foust on 9/9/2009 · 8 comments

Steve Farrell, a New York Times reporter who had been abducted while covering the bombing incident at Kunduz, has been rescued. His interpreter, tragically, died, along with an unknown number of civilians. Apparently his rescue was the result of an Afghan-led effort, and ended in a brutal firefight.

Mr. Farrell said as he and Mr. Munadi ran outside, he heard voices. “There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices.”

At the end of a wall, Mr. Farrell said Mr. Munadi went forward, shouting: “Journalist! Journalist!” but dropped in a hail of bullets. “I dived in a ditch,” said Mr. Farrell, who said he did not know whether the shots had come from allied or militant fire.

After a minute or two, Mr. Farrell, who holds dual Irish-British citizenship, said he heard more British voices and shouted, “British hostage!” The British voices told him to come over. As he did, Mr. Farrell said he saw Mr. Munadi.

“He was lying in the same position as he fell,” Mr. Farrell said. “That’s all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He’s dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped.”

While we’re unreservedly happy Mr. Farrell is home safe, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Afghans working with New York Times reporters tend to get badly harmed. During the accounts we could find of David Rohde’s escape from Waziristan, we learn his driver, for some reason, did not join him and his interpreter. Now we’re finding Mr. Farrell’s interpreter was cut down right when they were escaping.
  • The media silence issue also bears contemplation. Much like Mr. Rohde’s abduction, the Times successfully kept the story under wraps, save one. Best I can tell, Bill Roggio is the only one to have persisted in posting about Mr. Farrell’s abduction over the objections of the Times and Mr. Farrell’s staff. He felt the newsworthiness of the act outweighed concerns for the reporter’s life and his family’s wishes (which is an arguable point, even though I disagree with it). His commenters, on the other hand, expressed what can only be virulent hatred of the Times and the profession of journalism. A debate is one thing; the vitriol in that thread is another.

Finally, some loose ends. While the German media has been quick to point out that Kunduz’s Governor expressed more frustration over Germany’s ineptitude than sadness at the loss of so many civilians, Mr. Farrell is reporting that locals near the bombing site were so angry they gathered in a crowd when he showed up. His interpreter also claims to have seen Pashtun men from Kandahar among the crowd, so it’s possible much more of this event—the bombing and Farrell’s capture—was orchestrated than we realize.

In either case, we are happy Mr. Farrell is home safe. And we are deeply saddened his interpreter is not.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 8 comments }

Péter September 9, 2009 at 6:47 am

I wouldn’t necessarily make too much of a local driver using the term “Kandahari,” it can be just a reference to Pashtuns as far as I know – so one would have to hear the original claim from the driver. North of Pul-i Khumri there’s an area sometimes referred to as the Kandahari belt. Given northern Pashtuns’ history and all that.

Joshua Foust September 9, 2009 at 6:59 am

Indeed, that’s very true. There’s also a noticeable Kandahari accent that I’ve seen other Afghans (interpreters, so caveat emptor) pick up and highlight. Not sure if it means anything, but I’m pretty sure it exists.

paul cannon September 9, 2009 at 9:59 am

It is a shame that in your piece no mention was made of the death of a british rescuer.

Joshua Foust September 11, 2009 at 6:37 am

Paul, that’s an ommission, true, but not an intentional one. However, I’ll temper that with the understanding that the UK/U.S. press is doing plenty to discuss the sacrifices of the troops; I’m okay with focusing on the civilian dead.

argonaut September 10, 2009 at 3:28 am

Trust Gordon Brown to get things wrong – leaving the civilian hostages in Iraq to their fate, yet going ahead and rescuing a journo who ignored every warning. I guess journos count for more with media obsessives like Brown than ordinary folk going about their work.

Nick Hentoff September 11, 2009 at 3:06 am

The NYT account of the rescue is a primer on how not to act in a hostage situation. Here is the account from Farrell as quoted in the NYT:

“We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid,” Mr. Farrell said. “We thought they would kill us. We thought should we go out.”
Mr. Farrell said as he and Mr. Munadi ran outside, he heard voices. “There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices.”
At the end of a wall, Mr. Farrell said Mr. Munadi went forward, shouting: “Journalist! Journalist!” but dropped in a hail of bullets. “I dived in a ditch,” said Mr. Farrell, who said he did not know whether the shots had come from allied or militant fire.”

Regardless of whether he was shot by the Taliban or by the British commandos, it was a mistake to move forward shouting in the middle of a close quarters firefight since you identify yourself as a target to the enemy and put yourself right in the line of fire. If they don’t do this already, the NYT should require their foreign and local employees to go through through tactical hostage training so they know what to do in these situations.

Nick Hentoff
Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Joshua Foust September 11, 2009 at 6:36 am

Nick, I agree. Even if he acted stupidly, it’s very sad that he died.

Nick Hentoff September 11, 2009 at 11:00 am

It’s awful. He was a highly respected working Afghan journalist who was freelancing on a summer break from studies in Germany. My sympathies go out to his family. His death is a loss for the nation as well since Afghanistan will need citizens like Mr. Munadi if they are ever to have a sustainable democracy.

If the NYT — and all the other media outlets operating in the country — don’t already have a tactical hostage training program for their employees they need to start one.

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