“Do you like my jacket?” asked the man who got in the car. It was still barely seven o’clock in the morning on November 13. “I was fighting all night. I got it off a dead Arab. Look.” He was pointing at the Champion label. “If he was dead,” I asked, “then how come there isn’t any blood on it?” He paused before beginning to speak rapidly. “Because he wasn’t dead when I got it off him. He was speaking in his own language, I don’t know what he was saying, he was wounded, he was young, about twenty-four or twenty-five.” I asked, “Was he pleading for his life?” The man said, “I told you, I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I suppose he was.” I have seen this before. It is the time to get worried. Men high on war, crazed even—these situations of conquest can turn nasty quickly.
In the front of the car, the driver was moaning. “Is it safe? What happens if the Taliban shoot my car? Anyway I want more money, you didn’t tell me we were going this far!” I said, “Look, there are people walking on the road, just keep going.” Another car passed us. “Follow that car!” The driver slowed to check with soldiers by the side of road. “Go, go, go!” they shouted. We were now well past what had been the Taliban front line for the last three years. As we went past their trenches, we could see their blankets and tea-pots where they had left them when they fled. By now, we had two more soldiers in the back of the car. They were pretty quiet. They were returning to their unit at the front after having taken the body of a friend back to Charikar, the nearest Northern Alliance–held town, some twenty-five miles north of Kabul.
Then we found the last defenders of Taliban Kabul. They lay in the middle of the road just where they had been shot. There were five of them. The man with the new coat was jumping around, saying, “Look, two Pakistanis and three Arabs.” Their bodies hadn’t been badly damaged and since their corpses were fresh I caught myself looking at one and thinking, “Why don’t you just get up?”
We got back in the car and five miles farther on we hit the traffic jam. Hundreds of Northern Alliance troops, tanks, armor, the works were clustered, all waiting for orders. We were at the top of a pass called Khair Khana Kotal. Kabul was down the hill and right around the corner. We got out of the car and began to walk. “You can’t go any further,” shouted a Northern Alliance commander. So we milled around and wondered what would happen next. There seemed to be quite a few men also milling around at the bottom of the pass and some were now walking toward us …