Reporters on the Job

• KNOWING WHEN TO LEAVE: The Monitor's Ilene Prusher was interviewing young smugglers ferrying goods – and Al Qaeda members – across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, when two men who identified themselves as Al Qaeda joined the crowd of smugglers. The Al Qaeda men spoke to her, but the tone was not friendly. She asked them whether they would capture or kill Americans. "Yes, came the terse reply. "But not Americans like you. The Americans with guns."

Ilene says she would have liked to ask them more questions, but her Afghan interpreter turned to her and said it was time to go. "Now," he emphasized.

Although, Ilene had hired 10 armed Afghan security guards to accompany her to the border, her interpreter didn't want to wait around to see if the balance of power would change. And he sensed that it could quickly. "Right now it's OK," he told her, "because we have 10 armed men, and they are only two. But maybe when more of them arrive, maybe we'll be outnumbered – and then we could have a problem."

So Ilene and her truckload of Afghan gunmen returned to Khost, Afghanistan. Two of the guards, teenage soldiers, stood in the open back of the pickup truck. "They hold their rifles cocked with one hand, and use the other hand to hold on," she says. "They're almost like surfers or skateboarders, as the truck bounces over the unpaved roads. But it seems such a sad comment on the state of life here. For an Afghan teenage boy in a rural, undeveloped area of eastern Afghanistan, the two best paying jobs are to be either a soldier or smuggler."

David Clark Scott
World editor

Cultural snapshot

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