AUGUST 20, 2021
ON MONDAY, the day after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, the publishers of the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal sent a letter to Joe Biden. They requested safe passage out of Kabul for Afghan colleagues and family members who were trapped there, “their lives in peril”; 204 of them were stranded on the civilian side of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Fred Ryan, the publisher of the Post, followed up with an email to Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser. On Tuesday, thirteen Washington Post employees and family members—twelve Afghans and one American—lifted off from the airport on a US military flight. By late Wednesday, the Times confirmed that 128 Afghan colleagues and family members had flown out to safety, too. Yesterday, the Journal said that more Afghan journalists were “on their way to safe passage” and promised details soon. The papers’ efforts have been time- and resource-intensive, requiring close contact with the Biden administration, as well as the government of Qatar and others on the world stage. (Per the Times, Hillary Clinton offered up a few seats on a charter flight that, in the end, were not taken.) “You’d have a plan at night,” Michael Slackman, an assistant managing editor at the Times, said, “and two hours later the circumstances on the ground would have shifted.”
US news organizations have had lots of people to evacuate in recent days. In a remarkable display of solidarity, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a Times correspondent and former Marine, flew back into Kabul after having left, in order to extract Afghan journalists, coordinating with them from the US side of the airport as they tried to get there; Mujib Mashal, another foreign correspondent, helped out, too. Yesterday, CNN’s Oliver Darcy confirmed that the Post, the Journal, CBS News, and NBC News have removed all of their reporters from the country; the Post is now relying on stringers. The Times still has “reporters and photographers in country and abroad,” but did not specify whether these people are freelancers or staff correspondents.
Still, some foreign correspondents for major US outlets remain in Kabul. Taliban officials have granted them permission to report relatively unencumbered—as NBC’s Richard Engel and others have pointed out, it’s been in the Taliban’s interests to show the world their victory. But in the past two days or so, the risks have become more acute. On Wednesday, CNN’s Clarissa Ward, who has been reporting from the streets in full-length Islamic dress, was confronted by a Taliban fighter with a whip and an AK47. The fighter followed Ward and her team, and at one point charged past them with his gun’s safety off; soon, two other fighters ran at Ward’s producer with their rifle butts raised. They relented only when they found out that Ward had permission to be there. “It’s the Taliban, it’s not like you’re dealing with a force where there’s recourse,” Ward said afterward. “It was mayhem.” Yesterday, when Marcus Yam, of the LA Times, was covering a protest with another foreign reporter, two Taliban militants beat them up. One of the assailants, upon realizing where Yam and his colleague worked, promised, bizarrely, to punish whoever hit them—even though it was him—then brought them each cool water and a Monster energy drink, and called their driver. A third militant demanded a selfie with the journalists before they departed.
Many more Afghans—reporters, interpreters, and others who have worked for international outlets—remain in the country, often not of their own volition. In recent days, some evidence has emerged that the Taliban is starting to target journalists who have worked with foreign media and, as the BBC reported yesterday, hunt for all those they believe “collaborated” with the former government and its NATO allies.