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Photographers: Afghan fighters roughed us up as U.S. soldiers watched

By The Associated Press

12.31.01

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TORA BORA, Afghanistan — Three photographers said they were detained at gunpoint by Afghan tribal fighters and roughed up while U.S. Special Forces soldiers watched.

David Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press based in Tokyo, also said Dec. 20 that he and two photographers on assignment for The New York Times had discs containing digital photographs taken away by the tribesmen.

"We strongly protest this action and have asked the Pentagon to immediately investigate the matter," said Vin Alabiso, AP vice president and executive photo editor.

In Washington, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said she would look into the incident.

Guttenfelder said the photographers were working from a hilltop vantage point that they had used during the siege by tribal fighters and U.S. troops against al-Qaida forces in the Tora Bora area. They photographed half-a-dozen U.S. Special Forces who were looking through materials, possibly recovered from nearby caves.

The Afghan interpreter for the U.S. soldiers told the photographers to leave, Guttenfelder said, and they did so, driving about 20 minutes toward a nearby village when they were stopped by tribal fighters who set up a roadblock with their truck.

"They pointed their guns at us, took off the safeties, pulled out the bayonets and pointed them in our faces in the car," Guttenfelder said. "We didn't know what was going on. We thought they were bandits."

"There was a 17-year-old with a gun; he was sticking it straight at us," said Joao Silva, a New York Times photographer based in South Africa. "He was out of control."

Silva said he believed the incident had been engineered by the American forces to retrieve the images the photographers had taken.

The other photographer was Tyler Hicks, 32, of New York City, working on a contract for The New York Times.

The Afghans forced the photographers to drive back up the hill, where the tribal fighters seized the three men's cameras, computers and other belongings.

The photographers saw two U.S. Special Forces men nearby and yelled for help.

The two soldiers walked over, Guttenfelder said, and one said to him, "We know what journalists are trying to do, but we had to do this because taking our pictures puts us in danger." The tribal fighters continued to push the photographers and rifle through their belongings.

Guttenfelder said he told the U.S. soldiers "look, you don't have to turn these guys loose on us, our discs could be erased" and thereby eliminate the photographs of the soldiers.

Guttenfelder asked the Americans to calm the tribal fighters.

"We have no more control over them than you do," one of the soldiers said. As the Americans walked away, one of them said, "Don't worry, they won't kill you," Guttenfelder said.

After another 45 minutes of negotiations, the photographers got their equipment back and were allowed to leave, he said. The tribal fighters refused to return the discs that held photographs from their digital cameras.

Clarke said that Pentagon policy on covering U.S. operations was that "as long as operational security is not hindered, people's lives are not put at risk, and we are not revealing classified information, we try to facilitate media coverage."

Related

War-zone reporter: Soldiers threatened to shoot me
Pentagon denies claim, says servicemen were justified in keeping journalist away from scene of U.S. missile strike in Afghanistan.  02.12.02

News media protest lack of access to U.S. soldiers
Military apologizes for preventing journalists inside Afghanistan from witnessing transfer of wounded American troops.  12.06.01

Larry Flynt sues Defense Department to relax news media restrictions
Meanwhile, Knight Foundation's Hodding Carter III urges publishers group to seek better access for journalists to cover Afghan war.  11.20.01

U.S. Marines' Afghan landing includes news media
Reporters from Associated Press, Reuters, Gannett, AP Television News are first allowed to accompany U.S. forces in Afghanistan.  11.27.01

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