By Alex Strick Van Linschoten, Felix Kuehn
"We can't let you leave."
The African Union soldiers with whom we'd thrown in our lot a few hours earlier were shocked to learn we actually planned to head back into the city of Mogadishu, abandoning the relative safety of their base on the outskirts of the Somali capital.
Their commander was adamant we not be allowed to go. Finally, after much protestation from our side, the soldiers came up with a compromise. We were told to write a letter saying that if we left the base and were killed in Mogadishu, it would be entirely our own responsibility. "You will be dead," the African Union mission spokesman told us when we finally left. "You will die today."
Mogadishu, as we quickly learned, is not an easy place to visit.
We had arrived there on our way back to Kandahar, another war-torn city unwelcoming to outsiders, where kidnappings, disappearances, and gunfire have sadly become regular features of life. But Mogadishu feels different. As we've seen while living for the last two years in the stronghold of Afghanistan's Taliban revival, Kandahar at war is still a functioning city, with traffic, construction noise, and large markets. Mogadishu is an empty moonscape of anarchy and destruction. There are precious few remnants of everyday life.
"Anything can happen," Nuruddin, our driver, host, and security advisor, warned us as we headed from the African Union base to the ironically named Peace Hotel. We would be the hotel's only two guests. Nuruddin gave us a short lecture when we arrived; several other foreigners had been killed or kidnapped before our visit. "There are weird people around. They would sell you — you are a lot of money for them."
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