Marcus Yam was taking pictures of several Afghans who were attempting to raise their national flag on Thursday when a fighter hit him in the side of the head, knocking him to the ground, where the Taliban militant continued to hit the journalist, with another fighter demanding that he delete his photos.
Mr Yam was detained before an English-speaking fighter decided to let him leave after offering him an energy drink.
In a piece for the LA Times on 19 August, Mr Yam wrote that he wanted to “capture the mood” on the streets of Kabul on Afghanistan’s independence day celebrating the end of British occupation in 1919.
Mr Yam described having blood splattered on his clothes and camera as he attended an event for Ashura, a ritual for devout Shiite Muslims when they beat themselves with chains in a show of penance and mourning. Shiite Muslim events have been targeted by often deadly attacks in the country, he added.
Around 200 men waved the traditional Afghan flag in a show of support for the former government and in defiance of the Taliban. They scaled a rock foundation in a traffic circle to raise their flag to the top of a flag pole. But soon, Taliban fighters began to move in.
“I realized this was the kind of confrontation that could get ugly fast,” Mr Yam noted.
The fighters circled around the protesters and shoving and arguing ensued. As he and another reporter were moving away from the commotion, Mr Yam attempted to take a photo when “someone tugged on my camera strap, and I felt the kinetic-energy connection of a fist to the side of my head. A Taliban fighter had sucker-punched me. He was a tall burly man who started screaming in Dari, the local language, pointing at our cameras”.
Another, smaller Taliban fighter punched the other journalist in the ear as the large man continued to attack Mr Yam, forcing them to the ground as they tried to say that they were foreign reporters.
The surrounding crowd dispersed as gunfire was heard in the air. The LA Times reporter tried to move away as his attacker looked to see what was going on around him, but was hit to the ground once again.
He wrote that he “felt intense fear” as he saw the Taliban fighter take a firm grip around his rifle.
“Please do not hurt us. We’re journalists, we’re foreigners,” he told the fighter. “We’re media. We’re allowed to work,” both reporters said multiple times.
Taliban special forces arrived and cleared the area of protesters. The smaller fighter who had attacked the other journalist suddenly started speaking English, demanding that they delete their photos, to which they pushed back, arguing they had a right to report the news.
In a change of tone, the English-speaking militant asked how they were doing and if they needed hospital care.
“He suggested bringing us to a safer location, which sounded to me like a code word for detention,” Mr Yam wrote. Instead, they simply asked to be allowed to go back to their offices.
In yet another change in demeanour, the fighter “apologised profusely for our troubles, but not for beating us” when the journalists told him what outlets they worked for.
“We were each brought a bottle of cold water and a can of Monster Energy drink, a favourite of the US soldiers who controlled the city until a few days ago,” Mr Yam recalled.
“Please, could you tell me who hit you? We will capture him, and punish him,” the fighter asked them, prompting Mr Yam to look at his fellow reporter “in disbelief”.
He said that as they were escorted to their car to get back to their bureaus, Taliban fighters started joking with them about how they could have been “mistaken for locals because of our traditional dress,” consisting of a loose-fitting tunic and trousers.
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