It’s Official: Nir Rosen, Who Embeds With the Taliban, Is More Impressive Than I Am
A couple months ago, I had lunch with Nir Rosen at a god-awful Mexican restaurant he likes. What was I up to these days? he asked.
I figured I’d impress my friend, who snuck into insurgent-controlled Falluja in 2004, by saying I was working on a trip to Afghanistan. Nice, right? “Oh, interesting,” he said, “I’m actually on my way there, too, to embed with the Taliban…”
Nir’s piece from that embed has just been published by Rolling Stone. It’s not an exaggeration to call it an instant classic of war reporting. There are so many brilliant parts that it’s hard to find just the right excerpt — check out the Taliban soldier who manages to be pro-Al Qaeda and anti-suicide bombing; or the moment it seems that Nir’s going to be executed — but I liked this a lot:
After our meeting, Ibrahim promised to contact the Taliban minister of defense and request approval for my trip. As I waited for word, I went to a market in Kabul and bought several sets of salwar kameez, the traditional tunic and baggy pants worn by Afghan men. I had grown my beard longer to pass as an Afghan, and before leaving New York I had supplemented my Arabic and basic Farsi with a week of Berlitz classes in Pashtu, the language spoken by the ethnic group that dominates the Taliban. Pashtu is not exactly in high demand, and the book Berlitz gave me was clearly designed for military purposes. It contained a list of military ranks, including “General of the Air Force,” and offered a helpful list of weapons, including “land mines” and “bullets.” It also provided the Pashtu translation for a host of important phrases: Show me your ID card. Let the vehicle pass. You are a prisoner. Hands up. Surrender. If I wanted to arrest an Afghan, I was now prepared. The book did not include the phrase I needed most: Ze talibano milmayam. “I am a guest of the Taliban.”
On a Saturday afternoon, Ibrahim picks me up in a white Toyota Corolla, its dashboard covered in fake gray fur. His friend Shafiq is behind the wheel, wearing a cap embroidered with rhinestones. Afghan culture places a premium on courtesy, and Shafiq comes across as unfailingly polite. At one point, almost casually, he mentions that he has personally executed some 200 spies, usually by beheading them. “First I warn people to stop,” he says, emphasizing his fair-mindedness. “If they continue, I kill them.”
Nir’s takeaway is that adding more troops to Afghanistan won’t work, and that we should prepare an exit strategy. A Taliban commander tells him that after NATO leaves, they’ll negotiate peace with the Afghan security forces: “They are brothers, Muslims.” It’s unclear whether they’d acknowledge the legitimacy of the Karzai government. But it seems sensible to open, and deepen, those negotiations immediately to determine what the price of Taliban buy-in is.