Nir Rosen’s newest tome in Rolling Stone is all the rage. The first reference to it was from a good friend of this blog, and then a reference on Abu Muqawama. Of course, the title gives away a bit of the theme of the article; but Muqawama described it as a “must read,” so I did.
I did not share his enthusiasm.
While Dave Dilegge panned Rosen’s article due to an objection to journalists embedding with insurgents, my disappointment was with the content. In reading it, I wondered what Abu Muqawama would have found attractive about it, and further wondered about the esteem in which AM seemed to hold Rosen himself.
Being unfamiliar with Rosen, I decided to look into his writings. I found that this article was consistent with his previous work.
I must say that Rosen has nerve. He also showed courage in not screaming like a little girl as he nearly suffered the result of extremely poor judgment. It appears that Rosen’s “watch me embed with these insurgents” trick has become his signature move. Abu Muqawama is excited by this as a social scientist, which is the reason for his approval.
My sense of Rosen’s article is that he endangered his life for very little, other than a sensational stunt. Yes, he got to meet real live Taliban. So have I. In as far as developing a real sense for what is going on in Afghanistan, or even in Ghazni Province, I feel that his mission was a failure. As an IO tool for the Taliban, his article was a success. This, I believe, was not the result of his being duped, but suited his purposes as well. I’ll get to that.
In the meantime, Rosen’s presentation of Afghanistan leaves a lot to be desired. Not having been to the “Green Zone” myself, I contend that Kabul is not some immense Green Zone in itself. I also contend with a number of his other assertions.
Rosen’s misrepresentation of the number of civilians killed by NATO action has been well documented elsewhere. While it is not something on which I will focus, because I don’t have to, it does indicate either sloppy journalism or an intentional slanting of facts in order to make a point.
Nir Rosen’s experience of Afghanistan and of the Taliban during this “embed” was extremely limited. He does not demonstrate a greater knowledge of either Afghanistan or its issues beyond the few meters that he could see through the dust-covered windows of the Corolla in which rode. His depiction of the Kabul-Kandahar road as the only major route of its type in the country was patently untrue, for instance.
When first presenting in an Afghan village which was unfamiliar, we would meet the “village leadership.” After more visits, we would find ourselves sitting down with the real village leadership. Afghans often present lower level leaders to outsiders. Leaders? Yes. Senior leaders? Not so much. Not yet. I think the same thing happened to Nir Rosen; based on the way that his handlers were treated by real senior Taliban leadership.
There have been other inconsistencies pointed out; like how Rosen was free to text away madly while his hosts dickered amongst each other regarding his fate. It has been pointed out that he never really embedded with the Taliban, most of his adventure being spent in wondering if he was to be tried by a Taliban judge instead of doing or observing anything operational at all.
His descriptions about the ascendancy of the Taliban were entirely based upon his hosts’ claims. While they were not confronted by any ANSF or coalition forces, I think that it would be a surprise to TF Currahee to know that they were irrelevant to their Area of Operations. I am not surprised by the ability of the Taliban to drive on the roads, to move about Kabul, to walk about their own villages. I would point, once again, to the video shot in the Tag Ab Vally by Al Jazeera showing Taliban walking freely in a village in the Tag Ab being greeted by townspeople. When the ANP and I walked those same paths, we were greeted similarly.
The unarmed often greet the armed with deference.
The Al Jazeera footage was clearly propaganda. The Taliban there claimed control, and I’m here to tell you that they had control of that village for exactly as long as they were there. We often walked about uncontested in the village they were in that day. Their bold statements notwithstanding, those days they were not so bold. They frequently chose not to exert their “control” over the area when we were present.
One thing that Rosen was correct in repeating from the Taliban is that very often the ANP are not viewed very highly by the people. I saw this firsthand. The Police often shake down citizens. While I was there, their excuse often had to do with their pay. Raising their pay to be on par with the ANA’s pay was supposed to help address this problem.
The only value in Rosen’s article was the behavior that he documented. The “changes in attitude” by the Taliban, designed to make them seem more palatable to westerners, are not likely due to some kind of eye-opening change of beliefs; but an attitude of expedience and a demonstration of the dilution of the movement’s moral base. As for his parroting of Taliban memes, there is no great surprise there. Mir Rosen disclosed plenty to me in this statement;
So Afghanistan now is the good war. He (Obama) needs to prove, as a Democrat, that he too can kill brown people. I think that’s what it comes down to, that we’re not weak; we can kill foreigners, too.
Brown people? Killing brown people. Uhhhh… okay, Nir; sure. Bent much? I mean, that’s making your agenda pretty clear. In Nir Rosen’s eyes, we can’t do anything right. We are only there to “kill brown people.”
How arrogantly insulting to those of us who have been there.
While Abu Muqawama finds all of this to be exciting, I find it to be unacceptable. Becoming part of the Taliban IO in a widely-read magazine like Rolling Stone is just beyond uncool. Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama) may be a social scientist who is unimpeded by Rosen’s slanted journalism, but most Rolling Stone readers are not. What Exum finds to be a heady jaunt into the minds of a few Taliban, others will find to be a first-person account of Taliban primacy in Afghanistan. Rosen simply does not have the experience upon which to base such conclusions. Half-baked investigative journalism filled with misrepresented numbers about civilian casualties and piped-in Taliban IO doesn’t make for an exercise in responsible journalism.
Personally, I don’t think that it was intended to be.