INSURANCE POLICY: Having a wily Afghan reporter at your side can do wonders for your own reporting, but it is also a good health insurance policy, says Phillip Smucker. His interpreter, Lutfullah Mashal, traveled into Tora Bora last November before the US ground war. He tried to set up an interview for Phil with senior Al Qaeda leaders. "They sent a note back saying they would meet us 'on our terms, not yours,' " says Phil. At the time the note was sent - at the end of November - Osama bin Laden was just beginning his trek out of Tora Bora (page 1). The Sudanese Al Qaeda official who sent the note was killed two days later in US bombing. "Mashal advised that we reconsider our efforts to gain an exclusive interview with bin Laden. He knew the difference between common sense and going for broke."
Mashal proved a probable life-saver last week as well. "When we were trying to piece together today's retrospective story, we ran up against bandits on a dirt road leading through Tora Bora into Pakistan. Our car was stopped and a pistol was flashed in our face. But Mashal knew how to handle the situation. He calmly exited the car and began talking to the young man who was dressed in a coat of many colors.
Mashal told the would-be bandit that he would be hearing from our 'Afghan warlord friends,' dropping key names, if he tried anything. The brigand relented and let us go. My only concern now is that if our 'warlord friends' read today's story - and the insidious portrait it paints of their behavior - we probably won't be able to use that line a second time."
David Clark Scott
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