Noting Problems with Nir Rosen’s Reporting

by Joshua Foust on 10/22/2008 · 2 comments

My latest at the Columbia Journalism Review is a critical look at Nir Rosen’s mega-article on the Taliban.

Indeed, Rosen doesn’t miss a single point of the Taliban creation narrative, including its transition from an “isolated and impoverished group of religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords” to “the best-armed and most experienced insurgents in the world, linked to a global movement of jihadists.”

Scholars of the Taliban argue that this is simply not true. The original Taliban were not ignorant—Mullah Mohammed Omar was an experienced mujahideen fighter from the Soviet War with extensive contacts inside Pakistan; much of the Taliban’s senior leadership, especially the officials in Kabul, had a keen understanding of the outside world (including, poignantly, when they toured the Texas homes of Unocal executives in the 1990s). And while the Neo-Taliban are well-armed, its arms are not that advanced—the Stinger missile, for example, which so famously shot down so many Soviet aircraft in the 1980s, is nowhere to be found.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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myra.macdonald October 23, 2008 at 5:29 pm

The obvious question is whether or not you think that there is such a thing as a “moderate” Taliban grouping?

Also this comment in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs is interesting:

“Talking with Taliban fighters or other insurgents does not mean replacing Afghanistan’s constitution with the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, closing girls’ schools, or accepting other retrograde social policies. Whatever weaknesses the Afghan government and security forces may have, Afghan society — which has gone through two Loya Jirgas and two elections, possesses over five million cell phones, and has access to an explosion of new media — is incomparably stronger than it was seven years ago, and the Taliban know it.”

Joshua Foust October 23, 2008 at 5:46 pm

I think there are, unquestionably, moderate Taliban. Even in the previous version of the movement, there were those who were just not as radical as Mullah Omar. Osama bin Laden famously declared the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be one of his main impediments. There are others, some of whom have gone legit, and others who have remained outside actors. (This is a far bigger discussion than this comment thread.)

The comment in Foreign Affairs is heartening — it’s sort of textbook counterinsurgency, to talk with the moderates, try to co-opt them into the system, and then isolate, marginalize, and if necessary kill, the hold outs.

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