Before David Rohde escaped, a flurry of efforts to win his release
The team working to free the New York Times reporter reached out to kidnappers and debated whether to go public.
Kabul, Afghanistan; and New York
On the morning of Nov. 10, New York Times reporter David Rohde set out with an Afghan translator and a driver on a short trip that would turn into a seven-month kidnapping. Mr. Rohde was finishing a book about the history of American involvement in Afghanistan, and a Taliban commander in Logar Province just south of the capital had agreed to meet him. In recent years the area has fairly swarmed with Taliban units as well as kidnap-for-ransom gangs.Skip to next paragraph
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For Rohde and his fixer-translator, Tahir Ludin, the ordeal ended Friday after they jumped the wall in the compound in a Pakistani tribal area where they were being held, and escaped to freedom. The driver, Assadullah Mangal, remained behind. (The Times wrote in an early version of its article on the escape that Mr. Mangal decided not to join them, say several journalists who read the report. Later versions did not include this.)
For months the Times had begun working with US officials, private security contractors, and its own staff to try to win Rohde's release, according to several people involved in the effort.
Abductors made quick contact
The good news for Carlotta Gall, the New York Times Kabul bureau chief, and others working for Rohde's release, was that contact with Rohde's Taliban captors was made within days of the abduction. [Editor's note: Ms. Gall’s name was misspelled in the original version.]
According to Farouq Samim, an Afghan journalist drafted to help with the New York Times' effort and who has also served as a fixer for the Monitor, the Taliban commander Rohde was seeking to meet also called the Times and said Rohde never made it.
Ludin, Rohde's fixer, had met with the man in question on at least five occasions before, and had arranged this interview at Rohde's request.He operates in Logar, Ghazni, and Wardak Provinces and has ties to the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.
The kidnappers' demands were shifting and difficult to fulfill, says Mr. Samim. At first, the captors insisted on no publicity. Later they issued at least two videos of Rohde.
At first, his Taliban captors demanded that five to 15 Taliban fighters be released from Afghan prisons and the US prison in Guantánamo Bay in exchange for the three men's release. "That was something impossible. We always explained that to the Taliban, 'Come on, this is out of our authority,' " says Samim.
At other times there were ransom demands in the tens of millions of dollars. The Times said it paid no money in exchange for Rohde's and Ludin's release.
Debate if kidnapping was fit to print
The Times struggled with the question of if they should go public as the ordeal dragged on.
In preparation for such a step, the Times made a video appealing for Rohde's release that included his father talking about him and footage of Ludin and Mangal's children. "Honestly if anyone could see that video, that was a really convincing video," Samim says.