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Reporters on the Job

Afghan Rambo: Staff writer Mark Sappenfield says that it was interesting to see firsthand both sides of the debate about the behavior of foreign troops in Afghanistan, especially at a time when President Hamid Karzai is calling for an investigation of US troops for their part in a firefight that killed 10 Afghan civilians last weekend.

"When I, a translator, and Monitor photographer Andy Nelson approached Camp Phoenix to meet Rambo (see story), the crowd gathered outside the gate was a little worrisome," says Mark. It felt unsafe, and indeed, several days later, a suicide bomber targeting Vice President Cheney took advantage of a similar situation to kill 23 Afghans outside a nearby US military installation.

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But neither was Mark comforted by the sight of US soldiers waving their weapons over the crowd and yelling in a tone that suggested frayed tempers. "I was in that crowd. In fact, that was probably the one moment in my 15-day trip when I actually felt imminent danger.

"Thankfully, everyone kept their cool and the situation calmed down. But there is no doubt that foreign troops are the Taliban's primary target, there is no doubt that the soldiers know this, and on that day, I got an intimate look at how that can set everyone on edge."

Remembering a Russian Journalist: Correspondent Fred Weir says that he occasionally met Ivan Safronov, an investigative journalist who died Friday after plunging from his apartment building window (see story), at social occasions. "I found him tremendously cheerful and surprisingly talkative about subjects that were taboo in Soviet times and still are kind of off limits: military and security issues, the international arms business, and the state of the defense industry. He was a former officer in the Russian missile forces and really knew this stuff. Recently, he regaled a group of people about how he was nearly arrested for revealing, in a Kommersant article, a series of hitherto secret launch failures with Russia's new seaborne Bulava ballistic missile. He managed to avoid being prosecuted for 'disclosing state secrets,' but said he was constantly being summoned for questioning by the FSB security service. He was clearly an unusual guy in his fearlessness about doing his job and, unfortunately, this kind of journalist is a fast-disappearing breed in Russia."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor