Taliban contacts key to BBC presence in Kabul

Reeve, reporting from Kabul, was thrown from his chair after a US bomb fell close to BBC offices

BBC World Service journalist William Reeve used his contacts in the Taliban to reach Kabul ahead of his colleagues before the city fell on Tuesday.

And after the sudden retreat of the Taliban, BBC world affairs editor John Simpson arrived in the Afghan capital before the Northern Alliance troops and was greeted by jubilant crowds.

Reeve had made it to Kabul on Thursday last week after communicating with senior figures in the Taliban, whom he had got to know while working as Afghanistan correspondent for the World Service between 1998 and 1999.

He was thrown from his chair by the blast of a US bomb which fell close to the office while filing a report for BBC World, but continued working as the Taliban left the city.

"I have been here during hideous fighting, when the frontline went right through the city and thousands of people were killed," said Reeve, who was also in Afghanistan when the Taliban took control in 1996.

"I probably know the Taliban better than anybody else, that’s my job. But it’s very exciting that, as a result, I was able to be here at such a critical time."

The BBC now has six journalists in Afghanistan, including former correspondent Kate Clark, who returned to the city for the first time since she was expelled in September.

Somali-born Rageh Omaar, the BBC’s Africa correspondent who is reporting for BBC1, was one of eight Muslim journalists allowed into Kabul before the Taliban surrendered control.

The only other Western journalist to make it into Kabul before Tuesday’s dramatic events was Kathy Gannon, a reporter with US agency Associated Press.

Simpson was in Belgrade last year during the uprising that ousted Slobodan Milosovic. "We sat in our morning meeting and said, ‘he’s done it again’," said Vin Ray, the BBC’s deputy head of newsgathering.

Gaining access was a breakthrough for the BBC which, like other UK broadcasters, had been reliant on Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera for reports from the Afghan capital.

Reeve said he contacted the Taliban when he detected a change in their attitude towards the BBC for the first time since they closed its Kabul office in response to Clark’s reports on the destruction of the Buddhas in the highlands of Afghanistan.

"After the US bombardment they changed their stance towards their PR and began contacting the BBC’s Pashto service again, so I thought I might as well phone and ask them," said Reeve, who first went to Afghanistan in 1988 during the Soviet withdrawal.

He filed his first report using a videophone in the BBC offices, using as a backdrop a flag with the BBC logo that had been made for his vehicle when he was last there.

By Julie Tomlin

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