behind taliban lines
COMMENTS comments

Interview: Najibullah Quraishi


Quraishi is a veteran Afghan journalist. Late last summer, while reporting a story for FRONTLINE, he put out word that he would like to interview one of the new Taliban commanders leading a growing insurgency in the country's northern provinces. It would be the first in a series of contacts that would eventually yield him extraordinary access into an insurgent cell with longtime ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Feb. 1, 2010.

How did this project first get started?

I was in Afghanistan for another film for FRONTLINE and at the end of that, while I was in Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, a guy approached me and said, "You are one of my favorite reporters" -- he was watching me on TV -- and he said: "Would you like to have interview or a comment from Taliban? I have a connection with one of their commanders and if you want, I could arrange something. Give me your telephone number."

And after, when I got to Kabul, I received a call from the same guy. He said that one of the commanders is ready to talk. ...

So after many weeks it eventually works out and you are with this middleman, this intermediary, who is taking you to the commander. Do you know where you are?

I didn't know where I am. … Then I saw motorbikes, two guys were coming towards me. … So I had an interview with that guy, he introduced himself. He is a commander, commander of 300, 400 Talibs. … At the end, he said, "Would you like to come and see our mujahid and his life?" I said, "How?" He said: "I will talk with my boss, big boss. Then if he agrees, then we can invite you." I said, "OK." …

So I came back to the U.K. After a month, I received a call from the middleman. He said he spoke with their leader and [said]: "They are agreed, they are going to invite you. So you can come." …

I was in Kabul for a week and he said: "When I arrange everything, then I will call you the same day. You should be in the area." Then he called me, he said, "You can move tomorrow." So tomorrow, I left Kabul and I went to that region. And again, they put me in a car, and from that car, another car. ...

We crossed about five or four rivers during daylight. And then we walked for another two hours at night. It was around 9:00, and then I saw the light of a car. And the middleman said, "This is the guy, he will pick us up." An armed guy comes out of the car. I didn't know the driver; [he] was Arab with long hair and very clean clothes and big shoes. … I was thinking that I'm going to meet a group of Taliban. … I was thinking, this is the time which I came myself to enemy. … I was thinking they might not let me go back. This is my end of life because it's happened in Afghanistan. And again, I was thinking, no, they called me as a guest and if they invite you they have to protect you because this is Afghan culture. So that was my only hope, they're not going to harm me because I am their guest.

On that night when I reached the guesthouse, everyone was looking really strangely at me, like they [were seeing] one of their enemy. … Everyone was quiet and just looking. … I was thinking: "What shall I do? What had I done? Why had I come?" … The commander was really quiet and he was talking with people in Pashto language. I understood Pashto, but my own language is Farsi, or Dari.

That night it was really cold and six or seven people asked to use one blanket. [But] I was a guest, and for me, four guys in one blanket.

And the next morning after breakfast I asked my middleman: "What's the plan? Where is the leader?" He said, "I'll try to find where is the leader." Then we managed to find him in another guesthouse. So I went there and the middleman said in Pashto, "The journalist wants to talk with you separately, if you agree."

This map shows the supply route the insurgents were shown attacking in the film.

This commander, is this Mirwais?

Yes. It was my first meeting with Mirwais and an Arab was present, because anything Mirwais does, the Arab is next to him all the time.

An Arab, the one with the long hair?

Yeah, he is always present.

So I introduced myself. "I'm a freelance journalist and I want to film and to report your routine life because we don't know what you guys are doing here, why you guys are fighting." I [mentioned] when mujahideen were fighting against Russia, I said, "See, at that time all the media was reporting from the government [perspective] and there was no journalist inside mujahideen to report."

I said: "I'm not a spy. I'm an honest journalist." So when I explained all these things, they said, "OK. Give us 10, 20 minutes because we have a [meeting] of council. And after 10 or 15 minutes, we'll let you know." Then he said, "How long are you going to be here?" I said, "Maybe for two weeks." Mirwais said, "It's possible to finish in two days?" I said, "No, it's impossible. One day is already gone. In two days, I cannot do anything."

After 10, 15 minutes, he called me in with the middleman. He said: "OK, we are agreed. But there is something you shouldn't do -- you should not speak English at all. Anywhere you want to film, you should ask us. You shouldn't record on your camera without our permission," and all these things. But I didn't follow what they said. I was filming anything I liked.

Why do you think Mirwais allowed you to come into their ranks and film?

I really don't know.

You described an area that had a couple of guesthouses and men in there who seemed like they're foreign fighters. Where are you? Are you at someone's base camp? Are you in a village that has a guesthouse where these people are staying?

At first I didn't know where I am. All I knew, it was a guesthouse. The next day I found out that they are not based in one area or one village all the time. They're just moving every night, every place, every day, several times, several places. I asked later on, "Why are you guys not sleeping in one place in one place, instead of going visiting two, three places?" They said: "There is lots of spies from government. If they report to the government, they might be able to attack. ... So that's why we are changing the place all the time."

Now you said that the first night everyone's looking at you, they're a little suspicious. At one point do you come to understand that these are not the Taliban or this is a mix of Taliban and another group?

That's the next day that I found out that they're mostly Hezb-i-Islami because when they were talking, they mentioning [Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar's name a lot, and I heard they're supporting and getting orders from him. And then I asked the intermediary, because he was Pashto and he was talking with them and he said they're mostly Hezb-i-Islami, but some Taliban also were in this group. But there is no difference between Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami; they are together when they fight against government forces or NATO. They help each other, so there is not much difference. But mostly in that area -- in Kunduz and Baghlan -- they are Hezb-i-Islami.

Did you know about Hezb-i-Islami? Were you familiar with them?

Not before that. I had heard about Hezb-i-Islami. I knew who is the leader, Hekmatyar, but I was thinking that group is gone from Afghanistan. I didn't know they're still there with lots of armed people fighting in Afghanistan.

You said the men were talking about Hekmatyar and they were loyal to him. Who is he and what does he stand for? What were they saying he stood for?

I asked them. They said Hekmatyar is somewhere on the border of Afghanistan [and] Pakistan. He's based there. For the U.S. government, Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar is the same thing, [the U.S.] wanted both of them.

What does Hekmatyar stand for? Who funds him? What do Afghans think of Hekmatyar?

What we heard was that he gets funds from some Arabic countries, some Islamic countries. That's all I know. But Mirwais and his group, they're supported by local people. The people were giving their taxes to them rather than government.

So you're in the safe house now and you've negotiated two weeks worth of access. Now what? Are you just sort of on your own? Is the middleman still there with you?

The middleman was there. And he was telling me: "It's really dangerous here. You might be killed -- air attack and they go on operations, and what do you do?" I said: "If they go on operation, then I will go. Doesn't matter." And he was saying: "OK, if you go anywhere dangerous, I will not. I love my life." I said, "OK, that is your thing."

Again, Mirwais' people are looking at me like I am a real spy. And some of them were asking, "Which country, which intelligence service do you work for?"

Then I heard the next day they're going to go on operation. And I went to Mirwais. I said: "Will you allow me to go to their operation? I heard you're going to send one of your group." He said: "You are a journalist, you will be killed. What do we do then if you are killed? You are my guest." I said: "That's OK. That's my job. I have more experience in front line when I was in Afghanistan. I had to go more." So he said, "As you wish." …

Then he said: "OK, my responsibility was to tell you the dangerous part. So if you agree, then you can go."

What do you know about the operation?

I didn't know anything about the operation, where it will take place or where they're going to go.

The next day we went to another village towards the main roads and we crossed some rivers by boat and by foot and went all the way to some villages. And they were crossing through the villages very freely, which [makes you] think there is no government and NATO forces, there is not any forces.

Did you realize they had that kind of acceptance by people and freedom of movement?

They were freely going everywhere. I asked some villagers, "Why are you supporting them?" And some were saying because Afghan governments follow the foreigners' decisions and they are also non-believers, and we are Muslims and we have to follow Muslims. ...

Do you think they were saying this just for the camera or just because the men with guns were there?

I had two, three interviews without any gunmen. And some people were crossing the road and I stopped and asked, "Do you live here?" [If] he is says yes, I asked, "Which group you prefer?" He was saying, "Taliban, and they are really good people." And like when we were crossing through villages, some children were saying, "Please stay with us, do the lunch and go, or do the dinner, then go."

Then I asked one of the guys, "Why are these people calling you to be their guest?" He said: "Because they love us. They try to feed mujahideen. And also the children who invited us, many of their fathers were killed during jihad in Russian time, or during jihad during this time with NATO forces or Afghan forces. That's why they love mujahideen."

Did they hope that the Americans would be driven out or that the Afghan government will be replaced by Taliban?

They would keep saying, "We will join in the Afghan government if the foreign forces leave Afghanistan." This was their message. All of them were saying the same. And I asked why. They said, "When Russia was in Afghanistan, all Afghan people jihad against Russia." There was at that time only one non-believer country [Russia]. "Now," they were saying, "there are 42 non-believer countries with hundred thousands of soldiers. So this is now our duty to fight against it."

You've now gone from village to village with a small group of people. Who are they?

In every village, they had one, two groups. I was with the Central Group, with their leader, Mirwais. And in Central Group, there was Arab, Uzbekistani, and Talibs and Hezb-i-Islami; it was mixed. But they always think the villages there belong to them and in each village, they had one, two groups.

But the particular group that's going to carry out the mission is?

The Central Group. And they picked up some people, and also the village where we went was very close to the main road, and it had another local group of [militants]. And what happened, the Central Group people who had to attack American convoy or NATO convoy, they went very close to the main road and there was another local group there protecting them.

Now, Mirwais doesn't actually go on the mission. So tell me who is with you on the mission. There's a guy named Arif?

On the mission, there was a guy, Cmdr. Kalaqub. He said he was born in northern Afghanistan, between Baghlan and Kunduz. He was about 45, 50s. He did fight against Russia, but he joined Hezb-i-Islami now. And there was another young guy, Arif. I don't know where he's from. And there was another guy, Fedayee. He was in Peshawar. He was studying in madrassa for 10 years. So when Mirwais went to Pakistan, Fedayee said that he loved to do jihad and he came back with him to that region.

And there was Uzbek, a guy who is making bombs or roadside mines with the Afghan colleague, or trainer.

Tell me about him for a second. Was he Al Qaeda?

What I heard about them, the foreigners, mujahid or Talibs, they all belong to Al Qaeda and they get orders from them. Even their council -- most of them were Al Qaeda and they were from Pakistan, they were from Arab countries and they were Uzbeks.

It seemed like the bomb-making expertise was coming from foreign fighters or Al Qaeda.

That technology, I think, came from Al Qaeda and they chose Uzbek from Uzbekistan to train. I asked that Uzbek, "Where did you learn to make these kind of things?" He said, off camera, "I was trained in Pakistan by some Arabs." When they say Arabs, it means Al Qaeda, it's clear. And this guy's job was to go to many places. He was with Central Group at the moment, but before I left that region, he had disappeared from there. And when I asked, they said he'd gone to join another group. His job was to just make the bomb.

So you're on the mission; you're going from village to village. Tell me what you're thinking and what your perception is about how this is going to go down.

I had no clue where they're going to go, what's going to happen, how are they going to do their operation. ...

When I asked Arif how far we are from the main road, he said, "We are just half a kilometer away from main roads." Because of my security, I decided to not ask deep questions like: "Tell me exactly your name. Where do you live? How long you guys are living here?" I was thinking maybe they'd think that I'm really a spy.

Even though I have no clue which village I am in, I knew half a kilometer away from main road, but don't know which part of the road. Is it closer to Kunduz? Is that closer to Baghlan, or where? So then on that day, it was about 5:00, 6:00 [in the] afternoon.

This is the day of the operation?

No, it's a day before the operation. It was 4:00, 5:00 and the leader came to me. He said: "You will be left here with this group. And tonight, they're going to go to operation and you can be with them." And he said, "Really be careful." I said, "OK." Then the leader, Mirwais, he left with rest of his people. When we were coming towards this village, lots of people, armed people, were joining the central group at that time, so they all were gone. We were just left with 10, 12 people in a very dirty guesthouse, half a kilometer away from the main road, according to them.

So then it was coming on dark. We went inside [a] guesthouse. Then they said, "Let's bring the "Sakar beast, Sakar-20, and let's make it." I thought, "OK, something will happen here." I set my camera quickly, without telling anyone. They brought a big Russian shell and lots of powder, some wire, all these things. It was dark. I switched my camera and was filming, and I was asking, "Shall I film this part?" They were saying: "No, no, you shouldn't. It will harm us. If Americans see, it will really harm us. Don't film." I was saying, "OK, OK," but I continued filming.

Then someone switched the light. So then I filmed properly and I was even asking, "Shall I film this?" They were saying, "No, shouldn't be filming." Then, one of them basically filled it up. He said, "OK, film them, film them." I said, "OK, just 10 seconds." They allowed me 10 seconds, but I filmed exactly one hour. From zero to the end, I filmed everything, what they done.

They brought the shell; they put powder on it, more powder on it, deeply and deeply. And they brought some remotes and some batteries, some wire, all these things.

They brought their notebook and they put some digit numbers and they used some English alphabet and they matched their remotes and so basically I filmed while they did it.

You said the Sakar-20, that's a mortar?

Sakar-20 is a big Russian shell. And I don't know really more about that. But mostly, they're using that for roadside bombs.

They're using all the Russian shells?


At one point in one of the villages you went through, there's a bunch of munitions laid out, a bunch of shells. What was that stuff, and where was it coming from? Who was paying for it?

I asked Mirwais, "What's all these things?" And basically what happened during three-decade war in Afghanistan, Afghan people just buried their guns and their shells, their rockets. And now, they're giving all up to help them. But some people are not giving them up for free. So [the militants] are buying from local people as well.

Are these guns and shells that were given by the United States to fight the Russians, or is this stuff that the Russians left behind?

All the weapons I saw were Russian. And it was 20, 25 years old. But you know, these days they are really happy with Russia guns rather than new things or modern machine guns or things. They prefer Russian ones.

So you are there for the hour of the bomb making. What are you thinking while you're filming there about what you've witnessed?

Even though I was filming, I had no idea what they're going to do, where after that they're going to go. And they started at 6:00 [p.m.] until they made the shell and the things. I filmed one hour all the main things. So they were there until 11:00 at night in that guesthouse. After that, they said, "We have to leave this guesthouse, get out." Then we went to another guesthouse and we slept until 1:00 [a.m.]. They didn't tell me what time we have to leave this guesthouse. They just say, "Have a sleep, goodnight." Then I went to sleep with others. And at 1:00, they woke me up, said, "Get up." I said, "Is it the morning?" They said, "No, it is 1:00." So we had only two hours sleep.

Then in the darkness, I asked Arif, basically, "Where are we going to go?" They said: "We have to go and place our mine and it takes one hour to place the mine. And then we have to wait until morning for American convoy or NATO convoy or Afghan police vehicles. And then we have to be there until we blow up the mine."

Now, you know at this point that they're targeting the Kunduz-Baghlan highway? Is that an important highway?

That highway is really important. [It's] ... the supply route for NATO forces. Every day you can see convoys of the Americans or Germans or NATO forces. It is the highway, connecting all the way from [the] Tajikistan/Afghan border, all the way to Kunduz, Baghlan and Kabul, finally. And from Kabul all the way to Peshawar. It's the same road. Before they were attacking the Peshawar side, and now they choose this side.

And we shouldn't forget that ... Kunduz is second home for Taliban. They always are using Kunduz, even when Taliban was in power in Afghanistan, they had more forces in Kunduz.

When did they begin to target this northern highway?

It was last year or year before, but within last six months or eight months, it's become really big.

The group you were with, who were part of the Central Group, did it seem like they had carried out attacks like this before? Did they seem to know what they were doing?

For the first time when I met them, I saw two injured guys, and they were sitting there. They were not talking, they were really quiet and you can notice something was wrong with them. I asked my middleman why they are like this, and he asked someone else, and then I found out that two days [before], they were in an operation, again on the main road, and the two guys were injured. And they have their own doctor and they are treating there.

And later on, a few days later, they brought some guns to show me. There were American pistols and they said these things were from that day.

There were a number of things they were very proud to show you. Along the road as you're walking they see, they call it an American tank. What was it that they were showing you?

They said they destroyed seven tanks and they took the rest, but one is left up there on the mountain, and they said people brought it here. And they were claiming they killed 25 American soldiers. But you know, propaganda all the time, everywhere.

OK, so let's go back to the day of the mission. It's the middle of the night --

I left to go film where they placing them, but they said it's going to be really dangerous for us because of your camera. If there is any light showing or anything, then we will be exposed and on the two sides are two police bases. So you cannot go there. I said, "No, I would not switch on [the light]."

Then they left and me, Fedayee, the middleman, we all sit back. And we didn't know how far we are from the highway. They said we are very close. But I was in darkness.

Then [after] two hours in a cold weather two guys came back, the Uzbek and Afghan guy. They said: "OK, everything is done. So now we should be separated."

I didn't know where they take me. I saw there is a highway. I was walking on a highway. I said, "Where are we going?" They said, "We have to stay in a petrol station."

Then they knocked the petrol station, the guy, he didn't open. Then they said, "If you not open the door, I'll shoot you." The guy immediately opened the door. So all of them are inside the room.

We stayed there for more than two hours. Then, it was 6:00 in the morning and lightening. The cars were crossing the road. Then there was an argument between Kalaqub, Fedayee and Arif. Kalaqub was saying: "This is 6:00. We have to go outside from here now. And we have to wait for any vehicles." Fedayee was saying: "No. We have to wait in petrol station because the guy who was working petrol pump, he told [me] that every morning at 7:00, there is, five, six policemen just crossing the road on foot." So he was saying, "No, we have to be in a petrol pump. As soon as we saw police, then we just fire on them and kill them. So there's also another job." And Kalaqub was saying: "Our plan is the mine. We have to wait for a NATO convoy, for American convoy." They were all the time naming American, American tank and American soldiers.

Then, Fedayee received a call from one of their spotters that American tank left factory. Then they immediately say, "OK, go to the positions." Then there was a big garden and they were trying to cross that garden so we had no chance to cross and get out of there. And we went back to that position where, they had to do their attack. The tank was gone and they missed the tank.

And they received the call from their base; very, very angry message saying: "You're really caring about your life. Why you missed the tank?" So they explained what happened, and so on. So, anyway, their leader --

It wasn't Mirwais?

I think it was 99 percent Arab voice on the phone. He was on the phone with them and basically, was ordered, "Don't come until done the job." So, it's become now 6:30, 7:00, 8:30. Then local people, civilians were crossing everywhere and there was really very foggy weather. Every two minutes, the fog was disappearing and coming back.

So on that day, they missed three times. Once when they wanted to attack tank, they were late and the tank disappeared. Second time I think they missed because of the fog. Third time, they saw the convoy of police and they wanted to remove the bomb, there was a local taxi, stopping exactly where they placed the mine and they didn't blow it up. The final time was when they wanted to blow up, but they missed the target because of civilians, some children and women.

Did they have orders not to harm civilians?

One thing which I saw with them, they never, ever harm local people.

One day I asked one of the elders from a village, I said, "Why you guys supporting them?" They said, "Because they really care about civilians, about local people. And NATO, government and American, they don't care. They just put a bomb on civilians, they don't care and they just killing everyone." And I think this is the point [behind] the people's support for them. Even their operation, they didn't remove the bomb, because of civilians. So I think that's why local people support them.

How afraid were Arif and Fedayee and the rest to go back to their base, to the guesthouse, whatever, if they hadn't succeeded in blowing anything up?

Yeah, [even though] they missed everything, even they fight with rocket, doesn't work, and they were all good between each other that the mine is useless, it's not working.

The funny part is basically they missed [because] there were mixed remotes. They wasn't sure which remote is for which mine. And then when that hour goes, a guy came and he was blaming Uzbek. He said, "You are useless, it's not working and let me try." And the Uzbek was shouting, "No, it works. Don't press it." He said, "No, let me try." And Fedayee said, "Just try it." When he pressed the button, it was huge, huge -- you can hear it on the film, it just blew up.

So then they walked very, very freely and without any stress. I asked them: "You did this, you fired the rocket and we are very close to the main road. Why are you are walking so comfortably? We should run, or you guys should run." They said, "No, we blow up the mine and we shoot with rocket, [so] for another three hours nobody has the courage to come here. No NATO, nothing, no Afghan government." They said, "We can even go to the main road and we can do like a checkpoint, we can check every car and the military are not going to come for three hours and the Afghan governments, or NATO forces -- there is no courage to come for three hours."

What about the Afghan police? It seems like the militants are using their cell phones to conduct this whole operation? Could they not be intercepted?

In Afghanistan, with limited phones or connections, and with billions of dollars going into Afghanistan every month, every year, and even they're not able to reduce that kind of free talking on the phone. So they were talking openly on the phone.

Were they not afraid of American drone strikes -- or are there not drone strikes in this area, or the Afghan National Army?

What I saw with them -- they all wanted to die. Everyone, just ready to die. Their leader, Mirwais, he has to choose whom should go on the operation. He is saying, "You, you, you." But the rest is saying, "Please, let me go." So when I ask, "Why you guys all like this?" They said: "We just don't care about life. All we want to be is martyred, to be killed, to fight the non-believers." This is their wish, basically. They are not afraid.

In this particular area where the roadside bomb took place, you go back after your time with the Central Group and meet with the Afghan police.

I went to that area [with a camerman]. I saw the sacks of rice, I saw the road. I saw every place. I saw the petrol pump when I was there. Then I saw a bunch of police people with their vehicle parked in a petrol pump, the same petrol pump where I was with them. And they were calling to us to stop filming. And when we stopped filming, they said, "Come along."

Then we went to their commander. I said: "We heard there is no peace in this area, so we are trying to make a report for television about whether the road is peaceful or not. Is there any problem or not?"

He said, "Everything is fine. There is no problem, everything is cool. We serve the people day and night."

Then I saw there was two police bases, half a kilometer away. I went to the other base, the chief of highways was there, so I interviewed the chief of highways and he also said there is no problem.

You think they didn't know the truth of the danger that was around there, or they were just telling a story?

Absolutely they know. But they are just hiding.

After you left, was it this group of police who were attacked?

When I left there after two weeks, the people who were in Central Group attacked the police station on Dec. 14, and they killed all eight police. And also from Central Group, two guys were killed; one, the guy who making the bomb with Uzbek, and the other guy who is sick and he is getting injection from the doctor, he was killed. And the Arab, he was really badly injured. So what I did basically, a few days ago I called to the middleman again, and I asked them what happened, because we have to finish the film. And then he said two guys are killed and Arab is badly injured and is in Pakistan.

So the very police you interviewed who said everything's fine, a few weeks later were ambushed by the same Central Group?

The same Central Group and the same police station.

So they don't have any trouble killing Afghans if they're the police?

What they're saying is non-believers are non-believers. All foreigners are foreigners, but anyone takes or gets orders from non-believers, from foreigners, they're also non-believers for us. So they don't care if there is an Afghan, they're taking everything from western and from NATO forces. And so, they're also our enemy.

Near the end of your time with the Central Group, two men arrive. Who are they?

What I heard is they were Al Qaeda, part of Central Group or Hezb-i-Islami's council. And they were in Pakistan and they came back from there. One was Arab and one was Pakistani. And on that day, I saw two, three times, they took Mirwais away and they were talking privately. And I was thinking the subject is me, and I was right.

The next day Mirwais came to me. He took my hand, he took me aside. He said: "Brother, I invited you here as a guest. I know your plan is to be here for 14 days, but I'm really sorry." I said, "What's the problem?" He said: "That two guys are part of the council and they are guests, too. One is Arab, one is Pakistani, and they keep telling me that you are a spy and we have to behead you."

And he said, "I stand up against them, and now this is the time [for you] to leave here." I said, "OK." He said, "OK. Don't tell anyone what time you're going to leave, where you're going to go, and if anyone ask you, just say you will be here for another month and I'll arrange that, too."

So on that day, he arranged his interview with me. We went into another room and I had an interview. Then I said, "With Arab." Then he spoke with Arab and Arab also agreed to speak. Then I had interview with Arab and then it was around 4:00, 5:00, afternoon, they brought a minibus and they put me in and they said: "Don't say goodbye, don't say anything. Just leave." Then, he closed the door and I left. So it was really dangerous at the end, basically.

When he said the Pakistani said you should be beheaded, how serious did you think it was?

When he said beheaded, then I said, "Maybe they are stronger than them," because foreigners always are stronger than Afghans. Because when they came from abroad, Arab or Uzbek, or Pakistani, they all have link with big bosses. They have more power. So I was really scared. Maybe they kill me on the way. Maybe their plan is to do something. All these things was in my head. But nothing happened. I didn't know where the van will take me. I didn't know the area.

What was your impression, your thoughts after you left? You had all these tapes, you'd seen the bomb making and you'd seen how they operated from village to village. And you'd risked your life to get it. Why was it worth it to you?

The tapes are really important for me because the job which I had done, I had never seen any other journalist who'd done this. There are some journalists, they were trying to do that, but they were beheaded, killed or injured. Lots of Afghan journalists, basically, but some foreign journalists, some western journalists also. They tried that, but not like this. They spent like two, three hours or a day, but not like 10 days to film all their routine life. So this was really important, to see their routine life.

We're always seeing their action, they were covering their faces, they are fighting or they were doing something, but we never saw their daily life; what they do, what they eat, where they live. How was the people like, why people supporting them, how they go village to village. It was all important things, not only for me, for everyone.

So that's why I was really caring about my tapes. I was renting four, five cars with lots of my buddies and we gave the tape to everyone, two, three tapes to everyone so at least [if something happened] some of the tapes, would be saved. Then I put it separate places, separate areas.

Then, on the day when I had to leave Mazar and go to hand the tape to my producer, Jamie [Doran], on that day also, I had security, I had three, four cars follow me. And even I had nothing with me. What I did, I sent the tapes to the border already. The tapes weren't with me.

So I managed to send the tape before myself to the border. So when I reached to the border, I collected the tape, put it in my packet, my back, and just crossed the border.

NATO and where the American effort seems to be concentrated is in a different part of the country. What should we understand about the north?

Basically, the NATO and foreign forces, are all in the south. And they never thinking about the north. So, that's why the militants opened a new frontline in northern Afghanistan, to make them busy as well.

Do you think it's Cmdr. Mirwais idea? Was Mirwais the one in control, or was he getting orders from elsewhere?

For Afghans, he is acting as a leader and big commander for them and everyone will respect him. But what I saw, what I heard, they were connected with abroad. They were receiving calls, they are speaking in Arabic language on the phone.

The Arab guy who was always with Mirwais, no question he was Al Qaeda. And his job was to report to and get orders from abroad. So even though there was some from Chechnya, mujahideen, the Arab was the one dealing with almost everything. When Mirwais is not on the stage, he [the Arab] had to give the order. Even on the day of operation, he also was calling them and he was saying, "What are you guys going to do?"

So even when they missed everything, when they went back to base, and Mirwais was really angry at everyone, and they were shouting at all of them, again, the Arab, he stand and he handled the thing. He said, "OK, if we miss this time, next time we will get it."

Where does Hekmatyar fit into the picture for people who are calling the shots?

When I had some interviews with elder mujahideen they were saying Hekmatyar was the first guy who brought Arabs into mujahideen, and they were claiming 41 years ago they brought Arabs into Afghanistan. And they were with Hezb-i-Islami. And they were claiming that they know more Arabs than Taliban and they have a good connection with Arabs. And they were saying it was all about Hekmatyar. So Hekmatyar has more connection with Arabs, is what I heard from them.

So I think even the Arab who are inside the group also linked to that. So if Hekmatyar has a good connection with Arabs so he can get more Al Qaeda, more troops or more help or more funds.

What does Hekmatyar want?

Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar, they want the same. They want NATO forces to leave Afghanistan, and that's all they want. And they keep saying if foreign forces leave Afghanistan, then we will come inside with Afghanistan government.

They will fight until the foreign forces leave.

They said they will fight until the foreign forces leave.

posted february 23, 2010

behind taliban lines home page · watch online · dvd/transcript · credits · site map
FRONTLINE series home · privacy policy · journalistic guidelines

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
main photograph © corbis, all rights reserved