New York Times journalist David Rohde's account of his 7-month kidnapping by Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan has garnered wide attention. More than just a harrowing five-part series running on the New York Times front page, it's a game-changing look at the Taliban and our war in Afghanistan. Recounting daily interactions with the Taliban and a trek across two countries, Rohde brings unique insight to the Afghanistan debate. That some of Rohde's analysis cuts sharply against the conventional wisdom makes his writings all the more important.
Since the series began on Sunday, both liberal and conservative pundits, as well as hard-bitten experts, have been compelled to take Rohde into account and seriously reconsider their own opinions. Rohde has inspired many debates -- for example, on the effectiveness of the predator drone program -- but his most significant has been on the nature of the Taliban. He insists that they are more radical, and thus less accessible to political engagement, than we think.
Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of 'Al Qaeda lite,' a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan. Living side by side with the Haqqanis' followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.
This paragraph alone, backed up by months of firsthand experience, is enough to change the Afghanistan debate. As President Obama weighs his options, Rohde's account of an expansive and radical Taliban is likely to reverberate through the White House just as loudly as it has through the sphere of expert opinion.