Note: This article originally ran on Jan. 6, 2013, shortly after news of James Foley’s abduction was reported.
It was July 2011, and I was in northern Afghanistan with a story to report: the return of the Taliban to a region that had celebrated the Islamists’ defeat in 2001. A translator I had met only a few days earlier was offering to set up an interview with village leaders who were trying to keep out militants who had taken control of nearby towns.
It would be quite a coup, but there was a catch. Afghan police barely patrolled the area. NATO forces had no presence there. To avoid capture, I would have to dress in Afghan clothes, speak only Dari in public, and not tell anyone where I was going. If I did not stay long, I could probably get my story and get out before the militants discovered I was there. Or so I was told.
I would also have to put my faith in people whom I did not know. Could I trust them? Was this piece of the story worth the risk?
This is the kind of delicate calculation reporters in war zones make all the time. James Foley, the freelance journalist whose family in New Hampshire last week reported him missing in Syria after he was kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day, has had to face similar choices. For the past three years, he has reported on conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan for Boston-based GlobalPost and other media.
Twice it has not worked out. In 2011 Foley was abducted while reporting in Libya and held for 44 days. The news of his latest capture has raised questions about the risks he took.
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