File under Locos We Love: My friend Nir Rosen has made a hair-raising habit of getting himself “behind the lines” to report the real stories of the various insurgencies confronting the U.S. and its allies in recent years. His ability to speak Arabic and to ‘pass’, together with his perspective on what drives the various insurgencies, and of their complexity seldom grasped by most of the Western media, makes him an indispensable inerlocutor. I first noticed his unique ability to see the story from both sides in the first dispatch of his I edited while he was freelancing for TIME: A piece about a squad of Marines wandering into a Sadrist prayer service in Baghdad days after it fell. The American soldiers had no idea of what was going on; Nir did. And long before anyone else had even noticed the man, Nir drew our attention to Moqtada al-Sadr and made it clear that Sadr was the player to watch.
Later, for Asia Times, he took his readers on a rare tour of the inner workings of the Sunni insurgency. Later, he did the same on Hizballah, showing the deep roots of the movement in Lebanese society, it’s complexity — portrayed in the West as strict Islamists, he made the case that they were a broad-based nationalist movement, and provided the photograhps to prove it, of teenage girls in makeup, wearing tight-fitting Hizallah T-shirts and jeans at one of their rallies.
He has also recently exposed the myth of the surge in the course of revisiting some of the Sunni insurgents now on the U.S. payroll. .
Now, in a new act of lunatic audacity, he’s gone on embed with the Taliban, producing a stunning piece on the dynamics of Afghanistan’s insurgency — a report from the frontline worthy of the great Vietnam war correspondents, which like those, makes abundantly clear why the U.S. doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this war. (At the same time, the complexity is there, as we find him watching music videos with a Taliban commander, and reporting on the often violent splits that are plaguing the movement even as it assumes control of ever greater portions of Afghanistan.)
His Taliban interlocutors are free to move around Afghanistan unhindered. He actually rendezvous with two Taliban officers in Kabul, from where they take him to the south. “Through a respected dignitary, I was connected with Mullah Ibrahim, who commands 500 men in the Dih Yak district of Ghazni,” he writes. “We met at my friend’s office in Kabul on a hot, sunny afternoon. Midlevel Taliban leaders like Ibrahim move freely about the capital, like any other Afghan: U.S. forces lack the intelligence and manpower to identify enemy commanders, let alone apprehend them.”
Here’s an extract:
This highway — the only one in all Afghanistan — was touted as a showpiece by the Bush administration after it was rebuilt. It provides the only viable route between the two main American bases, Bagram to the north and Kandahar to the south. Now coalition forces travel along it at their own risk. In June, the Taliban attacked a supply convoy of 54 trucks passing through Salar, destroying 51 of them and seizing three escort vehicles. In early September, not far from here, another convoy was attacked and 29 trucks were destroyed. On August 13th, a few days before I pass through Salar, the Taliban staged an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the U.S.-backed governor of Ghazni, wounding two of his guards.
As we wait at the gas station, Shafiq and Ibrahim display none of the noisy indignation that Americans would exhibit over a comparable traffic jam. To them, a military battle is a routine inconvenience, part of life on the road. Taking advantage of the break, they buy a syrupy, Taiwanese version of Red Bull called Energy at a small shop next door. At one point, two green armored personnel carriers from NATO zip by, racing toward Kabul. Shafiq and Ibrahim laugh: It looks like the coalition forces are fleeing the battle.
“Bulgarians,” Shafiq says, shaking his head in amusement.
After an hour, the fighting ends, and we get back in the car. A few minutes later, we pass the broken remains of a British supply convoy. Dozens of trucks — some smoldering, others still ablaze — line the side of the road, which is strewn with huge chunks of blasted asphalt. The trucks carried drinks for the Americans, Ibrahim tells me as we drive past. Hundreds of plastic water bottles with white labels spill out of the trucks, littering the highway.
Read the whole thing; it’s well worth it. As it always is when Nir’s out on assignment.