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In June 2001, Arnaud de Borchgrave traveled to Afghanistan for an exclusive interview with the supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund, known as Mullah Omar. "Sporting a kameez (calf-length shirt) over a shalwar (billowing trousers) topped by a prayer cap, I feel confident I can pass for a local," de Borchgrave wrote later. He left Quetta, Pakistan, in a small car accompanied by his driver and a Pakistani-born American consultant. As they neared the border, bandits robbed the SUV ahead of them and disappeared behind a sandstone hill. At the border, de Borchgrave and the consultant changed vehicles - to a ramshackle 10-year-old Toyota taxi with "Titanic" painted on the side. When asked about air conditioning in the 100-plus heat, the driver pointed to the shattered windshield. As they bounced along the pothole-filled road, scratchy cassette speakers played verses of the Koran in Dari. The consultant remarked: "At least the real Titanic had a band."
At dusk they reached Kandahar -- a city of 750,000 that hadn't seen rain in three years. They crisscrossed the town for two hours looking for Omar's house, passing motorized rickshaws, minibuses and camels laden with goods. When they found the house, armed guards wearing Taliban's distinctive black turbans forwarded their names by walkie-talkie -- and they were told to find lodging for the night. Omar later received the two at his adobe house. De Borchgrave asked about Osama Bin Laden, who was wanted for involvement in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. As Omar's "ambassador-at-large" Rahmatullah Hashimi translated. Omar said Bin Laden denied involvement in the bombings, and said Bin Laden "does not operate against anyone from the soil of Afghanistan."
Correspondent Rick Tomkins was embedded with the 5th Marines during the war in Iraq - riding in a 26-ton armored amphibious assault vehicle dubbed "The Pork Chop Express" that "looked like an armor-clad cockroach in its shape and the way it moved."
At one point 23 men rode inside the AAV, which comfortably holds 12. Most of the time it carried about 18.
The unit Tomkins was with, Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, First Marine Division, was the second unit to cross from Kuwait into Iraq . The unit went through at least 10 ambushes en route to Baghdad. At one point a rocket-propelled grenade rocked the side of the AAV. As the AAV moved over a bridge, "another RPG went through the open hatch, past all of us, went through the driver's window and exploded outside," Tomkins said.
Some of the heaviest fighting took place as the company came into east Baghdad.
"There were RPGs flying everywhere. We got to the palace, and Alpha Company went toward a mosque, about a block or two from the palace, and got hit by 60 to 70 fedayeen, that's where the last company casualty was taken. We got hit at the palace by about another 60 to 70 fedayeen, and it became like the Alamo. We had the Tigris River to our back, and these guys were lobbing in, the colonel reckoned, about 100 RPGs in two or three hours, they were skipping them under the metal gates, between the gate and the concrete."
As A-10 aircraft gave the Marines breathing space and they called in helicopters to evacuate the wounded, an RPG hit a gasoline drum on an AAV and it exploded, burning and wounding one of the corpsmen.
"I gave him a cigarette and walked away, and he was hit again by another RPG, hit by shrapnel. He made it through OK though," Tomkins said.
"A kid whose wife had just had a baby, I helped carry him out of an AAV, he'd had the side of his face ripped open by an RPG," he said. The Marine survived and underwent reconstructive surgery.
Tomkins flew on a C-130 from Iraq to Kuwait after 31 days in the field.
"I was in full gear, no bath for 31 days, no washing for 31 days, my clean socks were now two weeks old, and I was a mess." He took a taxi to the Crown Plaza Hotel and walked in, wearing his flak vest, carrying his rucksack, covered with dirt and mud. He walked to the checkout counter in a surly mood.
"As I walked up to the counter, the line parted to let me through. The clerk said 'don't worry, we'll fill out the paperwork' and gave me a key." Tomkins got on the elevator. As the door opened on his floor, a man behind him in the elevator said: "Rough day at the office, huh?" "That cracked me up," Tomkins said. "I went to my room, turned on the shower, called room service and said, 'in a half hour bring me two banana splits,' and I sat in the shower for half an hour."