National Geographic News
Edward Girardet, a U.S.-born journalist, writer, and producer based in
Paris, has been reporting on Afghanistan for more than two decades.
During some 40 visits, he observed firsthand 23 years of conflict and
its effects on the country and its people.
In the December issue of National Geographic, Girardet writes about that experience and his latest trip to Afghanistan, which ended only days before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Girardet first went to Afghanistan as a foreign correspondent in late 1979. Three months later the Soviets invaded. In the decade that followed, he traveled secretlyoften on foot and sometimes for weeks at a timewith the mujahidin resistance fighters.
After the Soviets withdrew in 1989 and the fundamentalist Taliban regime rose to power, Girardet continued reporting on Afghanistan for several newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks.
Girardet published a book on the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Now, he wants to write a more personal book based on his longtime experience in the country and his insight into the culture. "It will be a good way of conveying what the war was about, who the Afghans are," he said.
In early September Girardet returned to Afghanistan to revisit areas he had reported on and see how things had changed. He and his guide traveled to the Panjshir Valley, where he was to meet with Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces. "I had planned to sit down with him to discuss 23 years of war," said Girardet. "I wanted to talk about what he thought he'd done right and wrong."
The meeting never occurred. On September 9, two days before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Massoud was shot by two Arabs posing as journalists. He died of his wounds a few days later.
At a compound the Northern Alliance had set up for journalists and other visitors, Girardet and his guide had unwittingly shared quarters with Massoud's assassins.
"Lion of Panjshir"
Girardet was the first American to interview Massoud. It happened in 1981, during the Soviet occupation, when Girardet was among a group of French journalists and doctors traveling to the Panjshir Valley to set up a medical clinic.
"We'd heard there was an incredible commander, someone who was not only a good fighterstaving off Sovietsbut who also paid attention to the needs of local civilians," said Girardet.
The trip took more than ten days, all on foot. "I love trekking, so it was paradise for me," said Girardet. "In Panjshir, when we finally met Massoud, he said to me: 'You're the American. I hear you're a good walker.' That seemed to appeal to him for some reason."