Bagram Air Base
by Geraldo Rivera | Dec 04, 2007
Outside Kabul, Afghanistan
Flying into Kabul, this country's sprawling, dusty capital first provides one of the world's most spectacular sights, the soaring, seemingly endless Hindu Kush mountains. Sharp peaks, snow covered and breathtaking these 15-18,000 foot giants are mere half-sized foothills leading up to their awesome cousins the Himalayas a thousand miles east. The aircraft an ancient 737 owned by a bare bones operation called Kam Air banks sharply left to avoid them, then dives into the brown haze that covers Afghanistan's principal and really only modern city.
'Modern' is a stretch, since while cars now crowd and sometimes choke its main streets, many of those streets are dirt or only casually paved and pot-holed and they compete with donkey carts, bicycles and hand-drawn wagons for clearance. Flying in low, the outer cityscape is still mostly endless adobe homes, many of them mud walled compounds giving way to the two and three story rickety structures that pass for high-rises toward the city center all fronted by a riot of small shops selling everything from spices to clothing, generators to cows' hooves. The streets are bustling, bursting with pedestrian traffic despite the terror threat and I notice some newer apartment blocks that reach higher than usual and a grandiose mosque an ex-pat businessman is building for his country. It's still unfinished minarets already tower over the other modest structures and will soon dominate the bubbling scene, which, despite the renewed violence is still pure, exotic Discovery Channel/National Geographic: timeless Asia as old as Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great.
The modest old airport hasn't changed much since my last visit several years ago, except the antique terminal now has a big sign on it saying Kabul International and the wrecked aircraft from decades of war that littered the open spaces on the field, mostly old MIG's have finally been cleared away. I notice a new terminal under construction next door, a welcome and necessary modernization if post-war Afghanistan is ever to attract visitors and commerce.
Getting off the airplane I see him, our dear friend Akbar Shinwari and run toward this brave young man who has guided me through some of my life's grandest adventures here in this scene of so much recent chaos, violence, war, victory, and more tumult and drama.
He was a 22-year old kid when we met in the then still besieged city of Jalalabad in 2001, near where four western journalists had just been slaughtered, and he was at my side in the battle of Tora Bora and the passage through the ten-mile long wreck of the Salang Tunnel and other Afghan adventures I'll someday get around to writing down.
Now, Akbar runs the modest Fox News bureau here, mostly consisting of him and a security guy, a no-nonsense, grizzled Brit named Tom. Akbar 'owns' the airport and gets us and our 30 heavy pieces of gear through its crowded, noisy, antique baggage claim in record time. As our train of porters, who still look like they could be characters out of a 19th Century period piece, wheels our stuff out, Tom explains that there has been another suicide attack right outside the airport gate, the second in a week in Kabul. With its hideous adoption of suicide and car bombers, the once proud Taliban fighters continue morphing into al-Qaeda, even as those former allies-in-terror struggle to stay alive in Iraq.
After asking about how our respective families are doing in a parking lot conference, Akbar gets down to business, telling me that President Hamid Karzai has scheduled a press conference for 5:15 in this afternoon. I look at my watch trying unsuccessfully with my tired brain to figure out the local time. For reasons I can't fathom Afghanistan is 9 1/2 hours ahead of EST. Baffled I finally ask what time it is, realize the conference is just 45 minutes away and decide on the spot that brother Craig and I will accompany Akbar to the presidential palace, while the rest of the team, Greg Hart, Christian Galdabini and Brian Donnelly will go with Tom to the hotel, a new addition since my last trip.
Akbar tells me he's heard Robert Gates, the U.S. Defense Secretary's in country on an unannounced visit and that the event is probably a joint news conference.
We get there in time to ask a question about al-Qaeda and arrange a sit-down interview with the regal president for the weekend show.
He answered my Qaeda query saying they were a spent force. The next morning I am awakened by sirens. Another suicider has struck Kabul. Six Afghan soldiers and seven civilians are dead.