- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

New York Times investigative reporter David Rohde jumped the fence line of an enclosed Taliban compound and escaped his captors on Friday night after more than seven months in captivity in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This was the second time Mr. Rohde has been kidnapped in his career, most of which is spent inside dangerous war zones or areas of conflict.

Mr. Rohde was abducted by the Taliban outside of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Nov. 10. Before heading out with his driver and interpreter, he left a letter in his room for his family out of concern that he might be entering a dangerous situation - the same steps he took while reporting in Bosnia in the 1990s, before being kidnapped there.

Related article: Editor: We had to keep mum on reporter’s abduction

Mr. Rohde was then taken across the border into Pakistan’s lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where he was kept until his escape.

Pakistani sources told the New York Times that when Mr. Rohde escaped the compound, he ran into Pakistani military patrols, who took him to their facility in the frontier region. He was later taken by Pakistani military helicopter to Peshawar before being flown by the U.S. military in a C-130 aircraft to Bagram air base in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“He was very lucky,” said a Pakistani official, who asked that his name not be revealed owing to the sensitivity of the subject. “Once in the hands of the Pakistani patrols, he was able to reach out to his family.”

The Pakistani patrol team that first found Mr. Rohde clandestinely took him to their base. Pakistani officers gave him a cell phone to call his family. He called his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, but could not reach her at the time. His second call was to Ms. Mulvihill’s mother. He told her that he had reached safety, said another official familiar with the operation.

Mr. Rohde had been married only three months before he was kidnapped.

Ms. Mulvihill thanked the New York Times, the U.S. government and “all the others” who helped their family during the time Mr. Rohde had been in captivity.

Mr. Rohde had been on leave from the New York Times when he was abducted along with Afghan reporter Tahir Ludin. He was writing a book and had been traveling through Logar province to interview a Taliban commander, but was apparently kidnapped by other militants. His driver was thought to have been working with the Taliban kidnappers and stayed with them after Mr. Rohde escaped.

Mr. Ludin also climbed over the wall and escaped with Mr. Rohde from the Taliban compound in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.

Western news outlets, including The Washington Times, knew of the kidnapping but did not report it at the request of the New York Times. Officials at the paper feared that publicity could affect the rescue efforts and endanger Mr. Rohde’s life.

“From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David’s family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages. The kidnappers initially said as much,” Bill Keller, the New York Times’ executive editor, said in a story posted on the Times’ Web site.

“We decided to respect that advice, as we have in other kidnapping cases, and a number of other news organizations that learned of David’s plight have done the same. We are enormously grateful for their support.”

The Times said there had been “sporadic communication” from Mr. Rohde and his kidnappers during the last seven months but that no ransom money had been paid.

A U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, told the Associated Press that the military had not been involved in the rescue. She could not say whether the State Department or CIA had flown the two to the military facility.

In Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the U.S. is “very pleased” that Mr. Rohde is safe and returning home. He said the escape “marks the end of a long and difficult ordeal.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton thanked the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan for their assistance in ensuring Mr. Rohde’s safe return. She said she was “greatly relieved” that he was safe and would be reuniting soon with his family.

Logar province, where Mr. Rohde was seized, has seen an influx of militants over the last two years. In January, the U.S. military deployed more than 3,000 troops to Logar and neighboring Wardak to combat the insurgent safe havens near Kabul’s doorstep.

It was not clear who took Mr. Rohde captive, and the Times did not reveal his abductors. Logar province has militants loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but also to renegade warlord Siraj Haqqani, whom the U.S. has accused of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings, the AP reported.

The militants who kidnapped Mr. Rohde transferred him about 100 miles southeast to Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. The Pakistan government said in a statement earlier this year that Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had asked for its help in obtaining Mr. Rohde’s release.

Mr. Holbrooke, Mrs. Clinton and former President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, were actively involved in seeking Mr. Rohde’s release, the AP reported.

Mr. Rohde’s father, Harvey Rohde, told the New York Times that he regretted that his son had made the trip, but that he understood his motivation “to get both sides of the story, to have his book honestly portray not just the one side, but the other side as well.”

Mr. Rohde was part of the Times reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in May for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.

He also won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting while working for the Christian Science Monitor for reporting on the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

During that time, Mr. Rohde was taken prisoner by Serbian officials and held for 10 days, during which he was deprived of sleep and interrogated relentlessly, according to a Web page on Mr. Rohde created by journalism students at Columbia University. Serbian officials accused him of being a NATO spy, the page says.

The Columbia site says Mr. Rohde knew the reporting trip would be dangerous and that his editors would likely not allow him to make it. So he sent his editors an e-mail that he knew they would receive too late to stop the trip, the site says.

Mr. Rohde is the author of “Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica.”

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