David Rohde, the New York Times reporter who spent seven months in captivity with the Taliban before escaping in June 2009, said that while history will judge our approach to the Taliban unfavorably, withdrawing from the region is "not an option."
Rohde is a two-time Pulitzer-prize winner who also received the Michael Kelly Award, named after the former Atlantic editor who was the first journalist killed in the Iraq War. Rohde's said his kidnapping during an interview with the Taliban "sealed my position as the worst newly wed husband ever."
Most of Rohde's speech focused on the nature of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and their wild misperceptions of the world. While the Pakistani Army has received $10 billion in U.S. assistance, it has sheltered a Taliban group that has killed 1,300 American soldiers in Afghanistan, he said.
"The insurgence is alive and thriving," Rohde said. The tribal areas have become a fulcrum where young Pakistanis are indoctrinated to support the Taliban.
Rohde's guards talked about hoping to carry out attacks in the United States, and his captors held many false beliefs about the United States. They believed 9/11 was staged, that was a Judeo-Christian alliance organized against Muslims, and that neckties were a secret symbol of Christianity. One young man told Rohde that "the world was a burden for any true Muslim."
Rohde was kidnapped an hour outside Kabul and held in captivity for more than half a year by both Afghanistan and Pakistan Taliban. He said the transition was so seamless that he considers the differentiation between Pakistani and Afghan Taliban a false distinction. He told the audience he found his way back to the United States not because the Pakistani army found and rescued him, but because his captors "got sloppy." The last house they held him at was only 3/4 miles from a Pakistani army base. Rohde scaled a wall while a guard slept, walked to Pakistani army base at 2 a.m., and found a Pakistani soldier on the phone with his girlfriend. The soldier apologized for the kidnapping and explained that Rohde's captors were not of the real Islamic faith.
"My days as a war correspondent are over," Rohde said at the end. "My mother said that she was revoking my passport."