Interview With the Suicide Bomber

No journalist could turn down the offer: a face-to-face interview with would-be suicide bombers. A chance to learn how the insurgents recruit, train and deploy, to examine why the Taliban relies so heavily on this imprecise, indiscriminate tactic. The only problem was, I was scared that I wouldn't survive the meeting.

Suicide bombings became the scourge of Afghanistan in 2007, as the Taliban, outnumbered and outgunned, turned to asymmetrical-warfare tactics to battle the 100,000 Coalition and Afghan security forces in the region. Afghanistan endured more than 140 suicide bombings in 2007, more than in the past five years combined, according to the Jamestown Foundation think tank. Those bombs have killed more than 300 people, many civilians.

For my meeting, I traveled 100 miles by car and an hour on foot—through snow-covered paths—to reach a poor village in Ghazni province, south of Kabul, where my Taliban sources instructed me to go. I drank tea with village elders in a humble, mud-walled house. Then three young men walked in. A Taliban officer introduced them as fedayeen—Arabic for someone who is about to sacrifice himself. One, a 27-year-old Pakistani, wore a green-checked scarf over his hair, nose and mouth. Another, also from Pakistan, wore a knit ski cap and a brown jacket. The third was an Afghan who wrapped his face in a black-and-white-checked kaffiyeh with only his blue eyes peering out. They had recently crossed the border from Pakistan's frontier tribal region, a lawless haven for militants, where they attended a training course in suicide bombing. Now they awaited orders—and the afterlife.

We sat down briefly, but moments later, one of the men's cell phones rang and the room filled with movement. Two of the bombers grabbed nearby sacks of flour and removed hidden explosive vests. The third took his vest from an adjacent room. They attached small AA-battery packs to the wires protruding from their chests and screwed tiny white plastic plungers into the detonators. As they prepared, I learned that the caller had summoned them on an "urgent mission." Then, before I could interview them further, they hurried out of the house and disappeared into the snow.

It's hard to explain my feelings as I sat watching these men ready for their final moments. I was terrified for my own safety, and I felt powerless to prevent them from carrying out their deadly mission. I later learned that they hadn't found the target they'd been looking for that day, and I was relieved. But only for a moment. More attacks are being planned.