Saturday, June 20, 2009

NY Times Reporter Escapes from Taliban Captivity

A small victory against the Taliban. This reporter is lucky not to be beheaded.

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 Nov. 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 Tahi 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 U.S. military base in Bagram, the Times reported.

A U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Chrstine 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 U.S. is "very pleased" that Rohde is safe and returning home. He said the escape "marks the end of a long and difficult ordeal."

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 U.S. government and "all the others" who helped the family during the kidnapping.

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.