VIDEO: David Rohde shares what he observed in Afghanistan during the seven months he was held captive by the Taliban. (2:05)
Journalist David Rohde met with a class of Willamette students who are learning about Afghanistan culture and conflict.
Willamette community hears journalist’s story of being kidnapped by Taliban
A class of Willamette University undergraduates studying Afghanistan culture and conflict gained powerful insight Tuesday from a unique teacher: New York Times journalist David Rohde, who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 and held captive for seven months.
Rohde was visiting campus to deliver the fall Atkinson Lecture, but he also spent an hour with the class of about 20 students, engaging with them about their lessons on Afghanistan's tribal culture and U.S. military involvement in the region.
Rather than just recounting his story of capture or sitting back and answering questions, Rohde acted like a professor, sharing some of his knowledge while questioning the students on their views of issues like the importance of tribal elders in Afghanistan, or the differences between that country and Iraq.
Rohde — a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has covered the conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine and the Balkans — later said he was "impressed with the students' incredible knowledge of Afghanistan and their passion for learning."
"The next paper they have to write for class is about negotiation with the Taliban," said Bahram Tavakolian, the students' professor. "I know they valued the inside perspective Mr. Rohde gave them."
With the students and in his evening lecture, Rohde described what he observed during the seven years he worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the seven months he spent as a captive.
"I won't have simple answers, and I will not tell you what to think," he said in the evening lecture. "But I hope that what I have to say tonight will help you think about Afghanistan and just how complex and dangerous a place it is."
Rohde was on his way to interview a Taliban commander as part of his research for a book when his vehicle was overtaken and he, an Afghan journalist, and their driver were taken hostage. They were moved into the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Rohde witnessed Taliban control over soldiers who were not well-educated and were easily receptive to extremist ideas.
Rohde and the other journalist eventually escaped, a suspenseful story that he recalled for the audience and one that will be retold in his upcoming book, "A Rope and a Prayer," out Nov. 30.
He detailed two of the largest problems that he sees facing the U.S. war in the region: a failure of the American efforts in Afghanistan, due partly to not devoting enough troops and aid workers in the early part of the war; and a safe haven that the Taliban enjoy inside the tribal areas of Pakistan.
"I don't have any clear answers to this basic question of, ‘Can America succeed in Afghanistan?'" he said. "I will say that simply withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Pakistan is not realistic, and simply building more schools will not counter militancy, nor will sending more young American soldiers and Marines into Afghanistan and trying to solve the situation there solely by military means."
The next Atkinson Lecture will be Feb. 17, featuring acclaimed writer and political commentator David Brooks.