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On bin Laden's Trail

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Tim McGirk

On bin Laden's Trail On Assignment

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In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Hahim Hashim (top) and Kamaan Kamaan


On bin Laden's Trail On Assignment Author On bin Laden's Trail On Assignment Author
On bin Laden's Trail

Field Notes From Author
Tim McGirk

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    Although the Pashtuns have a reputation for being a warlike people who've kept out invaders since Alexander the Great, they showed me and photographer Reza great hospitality. Time after time, these tribesmen did whatever they could to protect us. Even though they weren't rich, they took us into their homes and slaughtered goats for us so we could eat. There was something wonderful about staying in farmhouses in the midst of forbidding and spectacular mountains and finding people with such open hearts.
    I even had the chance to see a grandfather, the patriarch of one tribe, sitting in a beautiful garden with his granddaughter on his lap. He was reciting verses from the Koran with the early morning sunlight streaming in. It was a very peaceful and beautiful moment. I'd been given a rare glimpse of  one of the calmer moments in these peoples' lives. 

    I was staying at a farmhouse in Taliban territory, talking to my wife on a satellite phone, when I heard a U.S. military drone circling in the sky. I remember thinking, Oh God, they're going to think that I'm Osama and let the missiles fly. I told my wife what was happening and promised to call back, but I couldn't for three days. That made her pretty nervous. 

    I found that people were more open to me when I dressed like them because the Pashtuns basically haven't changed their habits, customs, and dress for hundreds of years. So I grew a beard, wore long flowing clothes, and got a turban, which the warriors accompanying us often had to help me tie.
    However, when I traveled with the American military, I dusted off my Western clothes and put them on because, naturally, I didn't want to look like someone they'd be shooting at.


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