Taliban Exposed by Embedded Journalist in Riveting CNN Documentary

By; Michael Hughes  


CNN provided me with an advance copy of the film and helped arrange a discussion with the steel-nerved filmmaker, Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal, who risked his life embedding himself in a Taliban fighting unit in Kunar province – a move supposedly blessed by Taliban leadership.

However, as Refsdal described to CNN’s Anderson Cooper in the video, his heart-rending experience of going from invited guest to kidnap victim certainly forced him to question his decision.

Although Refsdal did escape, it was not before converting to Islam in an effort to save his own life after an Al Qaeda member informed him he would be executed as a spy. But it is interesting to note that, to this day, Paul still considers himself a Muslim.

Refsdal is no stranger to combat zones, spending the last 26 years reporting from the frontlines of intense conflicts the world over, including a trip to Afghanistan in 1984 when he covered the Mujahideen during their U.S.-funded jihad against the Soviets.

I asked Paul if he saw many differences between the Mujahideen of the 1980s and today’s Taliban holy warriors. Refsdal explained that while the Mujahideen had more advanced weaponry (as a result of U.S. funding via Pakistan’s intelligence service) – including RPGs and portable heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles called Stingers – they were less serious and less devout than the Taliban.

The Taliban seem more mature and take the conflict more seriously but, then again, they have no choice considering they’re fighting against the world’s most advanced combined military forces.

The Mujahideen, on the other hand, were fighting against a waning Soviet empire that used old tanks, refused to fight at night and bombed the countryside indiscriminately as opposed to employing more sophisticated guerilla tactics.

Refsdal was struck by how his hosts defied the popular depiction of the Taliban as narrow-minded fanatics. The Taliban commander was actually bound by Pashtunwali, the Pashtun moral code, to protect and treat his guest well because hospitality is a key virtue in Afghan tribal society (of course, the sub-commander broke these laws when he later kidnapped Paul for ransom – watch the documentary for the details).

Refsdal was able to capture their humanity on film during long hours of downtime between ambushes, showing the Taliban singing, praying and playing games to kill time, such as seeing who could throw a large stone the farthest.

Paul constantly asked them not to modify their behavior or routines in the least, because Refsdal was less interested in filming action scenes and more focused on capturing images such as the Taliban playing with their children – images that portrayed the realities of everyday life (which they didn’t quite understand).

The film also shows the Taliban readying for battle, and in one clip their commander gives a pep talk that is actually profound in light of the current debate in Washington surrounding the war’s rationale and validity. The commander posed a series of rhetorical questions to his troops:

“We [the Taliban] are fighting for our religion, our freedom, our honor and our land. What are their [NATO’s] goals? For what purpose are they fighting us? Are they oppressed? Have they been treated unfairly? Are they living in a dictatorship?”

According to Refsdal, most Taliban are motivated to fight because of foreign occupation rather than jihadist ideology. Although Islam is important to them – it is but one aspect of their national identity.

The Taliban Paul met seem nationalistic – religion has nothing to do with why most of them joined the Taliban in the first place. As Paul told me:

“They are not fighting because of Islam or jihad – they are fighting against occupation. If they were all Hindus, the Afghans would still be trying to drive out the outsiders.”

During the film a Taliban commander mentioned that his funding came from Pakistan – which touches upon a very controversial issue between U.S. and Pakistani leaders. Paul said, from what he gathered, many of these contributions flowed in from Salafi Taliban spiritual leaders and businessmen based out of Peshawar, but he was unsure of (and they would never tell him) if Pakistani intelligence or military were involved.

Finally, I asked Paul when he looked around at the 30-year old weapons, dirt floors, and clay outposts, combined with the fact the Taliban never really train during downtime – was it hard to believe NATO hasn’t achieved its objectives?

He answered my question with a question – a good one at that: “What are NATO’s objectives?” And not unlike the type of questions posed by the Taliban commander cited earlier, I assumed Paul’s also was rhetorical in nature.


Michael Hughes writes similar articles as the Afghanistan Headlines Examiner and theGeopolitics Examiner for Examiner.com.

NOTE:This is a cross post


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  • Moby  On December 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Two things.

    1. The Taliban are fighting invaders. They don’t take kindly to strangers as their history shows.

    2. The US and Nato is supporting the Northerners (Non Taliban) against the Southeners (Pashtun Talibans). So essentially this is turning into a South/Norther Vietnam conflict.

    When US and Nato leaves what will happen? These two groups will fight for power or would the country be divided in two? How will that help the neighbouring countries?

  • Faisal Faruqi  On December 11, 2010 at 2:59 am

    After reviewing the video footage I have some doubts about whether Paul was able to meet real Talibans or some other group of tribal fighters that might be sided with Talibans.

  • Portugheis Alberto  On December 11, 2010 at 3:02 am

    Thank you for sharing this. it clearly explains why I called my book “The Game of War…”. It is not only a game, as anybody who reads in between lines can easily see; it is also, tragically, a business. A business that benefits a tiny minority of people who are rich and powerful and wish to remain so and causes untold damage to humanity at large, death, devastation, destruction, suffering, etc. When will this madness end ???

  • Paul Wolf  On December 11, 2010 at 3:41 am

    I love the question by Anderson 360, who is perplexed why anyone would want to risk their life to do a story on a group fighting against the US. CNN hires a bunch of losers who don’t know what real journalism is.

  • Anna O'Leary  On December 11, 2010 at 5:44 am

    CNN is a very unsafe source for news. Not relkiable at all. Pure American propaganda.

  • Khairuddin Shadani  On December 11, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Taliban are the poor people, even sometime they didn’t find a bread of loaf. The question who is funding them such expensive weapons. First America funded them against Russia, named them Mujahideen. Now again the same story. Great powers funds them and using them on their own interest. Here in our region, thousands innocent died with out any reason. Human blood become so cheap here and even price less. Majority of people didnt came out from there home. The peaceful citizens become psycho……May God bless human being the true spirit of Jesus (A.S), and the real message of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that is “Islam” means the peace and well being for humanity…

  • IMRAN  On December 11, 2010 at 6:54 am

    You write:
    “Although Refsdal did escape, it was not before converting to Islam in an effort to save his own life after an Al Qaeda member informed him he would be executed as a spy. But it is interesting to note that, to this day, Paul still considers himself a Muslim”.
    I am sorry,this sounds crap.
    According to what one hears, Taliban will not allow anyone to escape knowing he/she is a spy.
    Refsdal is making up the story.
    What he states does not hold water.

  • Summaya  On December 11, 2010 at 7:05 am

    “During the film a Taliban commander mentioned that his funding came from Pakistan – which touches upon a very controversial issue between U.S. and Pakistani leaders”.
    One sided.Fallacious.
    Though it is quite likely that some funding may flow from Pakistan vested interested groups & non state actors-it is unlikely the whole of it does.By so stating CNN exposes their bias,like a lot of vested interest by media.
    While demonizing Pakistan, Washington is also guilty of empowering India during those eight years and turning Afghan soil into a launchpad for the export of terrorism into Pakistan.
    The American people and the Pakistani people have no strategic conflict of interest. But with the constant demonization of Pakistan at the hands of US government and its psy-ops managers, every attempt is being made to put the Americans and Pakistanis on a war path, and the ad above is one big step in that direction.
    CNN is known for anti Pakistan diatribe.
    Its time they get facctual.

    • Michael Hughes  On December 11, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      My friend you are confused. The Pakistani comment wasn’t from CNN – they do not know any better. That was from ME the author of the article – not actually associated with CNN, but I know more about pakistan than they do. Hamid Gul founded the Taliban, ask former CIA intelligence officials – this is not fabricated – this is a matter of public record. Of course, the ISI was and still might be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CIA, but the point is, there’s a difference between demonizing Pakistan and demonizing duplicitous military and intel agents. Anyone who denies the ISI is still funding the Taliban is likely a part of the ISI.

      • Summaya  On December 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm

        Darling: Look at the TITLE: Taliban Exposed by Embedded Journalist in Riveting CNN Documentary….so if you base your silly little article on a piece of crap,I’m not the one confused here.
        As for General Someone, without love lost for anyone, let me state, he neither had the funds, nor the level to CREATE Taliban.It was the US THAT CREATED TALIBAN.
        They may have used some as tools, but your theory based on a one liner is laughable st best.
        Clinton is on record for stating that US created Taliban then forgot Pakistan.
        No, no.Don’t accept my word.
        Go to the link:
        Coming back to being confused:you , my dear,are hallucinating!

    • Michael Hughes  On December 11, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      I will start believing Clinton, soon as you start believing CNN.

      • Summaya  On December 11, 2010 at 2:18 pm

        You don’t even read.How can you write?To make it easier for you, here’s the text of the link:

        WASHINGTON: Two days of continuous congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s foreign policy brought a rare concession from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who acknowledged that the United States too had a share in creating the problem that plagues Pakistan today.

        In an appearance before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Mrs Clinton explained how the militancy in Pakistan was linked to the US-backed proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

        ‘We can point fingers at the Pakistanis. I did some yesterday frankly. And it’s merited because we are wondering why they just don’t go out there and deal with these people,’ said Mrs Clinton while referring to an earlier hearing in which she said that Pakistan posed a ‘mortal threat’ to the world.

        ‘But the problems we face now to some extent we have to take responsibility for, having contributed to it. We also have a history of kind of moving in and out of Pakistan,’ she said.

        ‘Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.’

        ‘They invaded Afghanistan… and we did not want to see them control Central Asia and we went to work… and it was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said you know what it sounds like a pretty good idea… let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistan military and let’s go recruit these mujahideen.’

        ‘And great, let them come from Saudi Arabia and other countries, importing their Wahabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union.’

        ‘And guess what … they (Soviets) retreated … they lost billions of dollars and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.’

        ‘So there is a very strong argument which is… it wasn’t a bad investment in terms of Soviet Union but let’s be careful with what we sow… because we will harvest.’

        ‘So we then left Pakistan … We said okay fine you deal with the Stingers that we left all over your country… you deal with the mines that are along the border and… by the way we don’t want to have anything to do with you… in fact we’re sanctioning you… So we stopped dealing with the Pakistani military and with ISI and we now are making up for a lot of lost time.’

        It was question from Congressman Adam Shciff, a California Democrat that spurred Secretary Clinton to delve into history and come out with an answer that other US politicians have avoided in the past.

        The congressman noted that while the US had provided ‘a phenomenal amount of military support for Pakistan,’ they had not changed the paradigm.

        ‘And more pernicious, there are elements within the Pakistani intelligence services, the ISI that may be working at cross-purposes with us.’

        ‘How we can possibly be funding the Pakistani military if elements of the military or intelligence services are actually working against us and having the effect of killing our troops next door?’ he asked.

      • Saeed Piracha  On December 11, 2010 at 2:25 pm

        Who created the Taliban? President Jimmy Carter of the Council On Foreign Relations took the first step by ordering a covert war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Who originally funded the Taliban? CIA chief George Bush of the CFR affiliate, Skull And Bones Society. Who supplied the Taliban with all the sophisticated encrypted telecommunications equipment, which made its attacks on the dead twins and Pentagon possible? President Clinton of the CFR, who approved sales of the high-tech wonders to Syria, where it was inevitable that radical Islam would inherit it. Who handed the Taliban $48 million, to eradicate poppies, knowing full well it wouldn’t be used for that purpose? Why our last American President, like his father, a Skull And Bones graduate. Who is Bin Laden’s brother’s business partner? Why Percy Rockefeller of the CFR-founding Rockefeller family. Who owned the land the World Trade Centers stood on? Why those pesky Rockefellers again.You there Michael?

  • Ronald Turner  On December 11, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Paul Wolf writes:
    I love the question by Anderson 360, who is perplexed why anyone would want to risk their life to do a story on a group fighting against the US. CNN hires a bunch of losers who don’t know what real journalism is.
    BINGO Paul.
    I’ve been noticing CNNs third class coverage for a while now. They serve a pre drawn conclusion.

  • Craig Hill  On December 11, 2010 at 7:08 am


    “Make a Big lie and repeat it many times over.”

    CNN behaves like an American network. When it does that it loses its gloabl credability and its audience turn to a different channel to get the global perspective of events. Whether it is the persoanal bias of Wolf Blitzer, or the ignorance of Andersen, the end result is that CNN impacts world events and is responsible for the rising Anti-Americanism in the Greater Middle East.
    Each time Emersen, Toncreda or Peter King spew their hate mongering, people overseas do not realize that they are not representing America or what it offers. Each time Ann Coulter is on the tube, trying to portray herself as a consumate representative of America, people overseas do not realize that she is an entertainer and her carefully orchestrated outbursts usually against the most vulnerable members of the society are a way to attract attention to her.

    A suicide bombing in Israel evinces deep sympathy from CNN. A suicide bombing in Pakistan elicits a discussion about the instability of Pakistan and “loose nukes’. Same crime, same blood, same hurt. Totally different reactions from CNN. The suicide bombing in Israel does not discuss “loose nukes” there.

    This is a hall of shame for CNN.
    Some one needs to be fired!

    • Rizwan  On December 11, 2010 at 7:12 am

      BRAVO Craig.Well said.Salute!

      • Craig Hill  On December 11, 2010 at 7:13 am

        The truth.Only the truth Rizwan.

  • Dr. Asmat Hayat ALVI  On December 11, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Pakistan is the most abused ally of the USA. CNNs “Do More” mantra and anti-Pakistan diatribe is Pakistan bashing under an agenda, known only to you. It is this picture of “forgetfulness” and “deceit” that creates the picture of “The Ugly American” and destroys and disparages my great land…the USA. You have no right to destroy the image and the friendships of that has taken generations to build with the people of Pakistan. You have no right to speak on behalf of Americans, since you have an agenda!!
    Pakistan was the only nation dismembered after World War Two. Pakistanis have pledged “Never Again” and no amount of arm twisting will let Pakistanis give up their sovereignty. Pakistani friends of the USA have the following advise for American diplomats: The diplomats and “journalists” should “do more” and take memory improvement pills. The selective amnesia of these diplomats and columnists conjure up images of ”The Ugly American“ that has forgotten “Charlie’s War” (Congressman Charlie Wilson) and the fact that it was the CIA that created these Frankenstein’s monsters in the “Unholy Wars” (Cooley) and left us to clear the garbage. This attitude perpetuates the belief by a growing number of Pakistanis that they supported the wrong superpower and that Pakistan would have been better off with the USSR borders at Torkham.
    Shame CNN Shame!

    • Saqib Awan  On December 11, 2010 at 7:21 am

      I don’t know what to believe anymore! Who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s fake and who’s genuine! The bottom line is that ordinary people are the victims and that’s all what I should be thinking of.

      • Mir Ejad Ali  On December 11, 2010 at 7:25 am

        totally agree with saqib Awan.

  • Parveen  On December 11, 2010 at 9:05 am

    CNNs odious, rancid and hackneyed imperviousness to everything Pakistani blinds him to the large spectrum of the vivacious Pakistani diversity, makes him deaf to the varied cacophony of Pakistani ideas, numbs him to the inherently punier societal contradictions of the country, and helps him ignore the profound internal cohesion, so that he can surreptitiously inexerably and single-mindedly negatively highlight the putative and superficial dissonance of a highly complex society. CNN can thus impugne 160 million people of being enmeshed and ensnared in everything that goes wrong with anything. It is pedagogical to investigate the didactic provenance of her cabal and research the incipient truculence of his petulantly portentous and venomously vindictive revanchist commentariat.

    Pakistani friends of the USA say, the USA should “do more” to raise the decibel level of Thank You to the Pakistani nation not just a person. Pakistanis expect the USA to “do more” to stay out of Pakistan and Afghanistan and “do more” not to drag Pakistan into Iraq. If the USA does not change its attitude it may not have a friend left in Pakistan. If you want to continue to tell us to “do more“, a growing number of Pakistanis will say “Enough is Enough“. “No More“. Some may even ask you to “do more” to “stay home“. Some may even say “Yankee Go Home“. If “Al-Qaida” finds an ear to the resentment against US ungratefulness, it could get a lot worse then a slogan. CNN should hire Ms. Manners to teach the diplomats to say “Thank You”.
    IF Mike Hughes is now working for CNN, Moderator is suggested to block his articles on this SITE.

  • kaukab siddique  On December 11, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Why do you respect Zionist media so much?
    Haven’t Muslim sources told you about the Taliban?

    And this liar you are publicizing claims that Jihad and Islam are NOT most important for Taliban!
    Pakistani secularists like Ms. Ali will fall for anything.
    Watch what the Taliban are saying.

  • Walter M  On December 11, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Paul Refsdal commented about meeting the Taliban. As I recall, Texans met the Taliban in Texas in the 1990s to discuss a pipeline deal. The Taliban had already been met. It is good to learn about the people in the Taliban. I had read before that the Taliban do not sing songs or tell stories about Islam so much, but they recount Pashtun history and sing Pashtun songs.

  • Qazi Ebadullah  On December 12, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Call them Mujahideen,Taliban,Terrorists,Fundamentalists,Barbarians,War Lords or whatever but in my view they are true nationalists and are honourably fighting to protect their country from foreign invaders. Has anyone thought how their own nationals would have reacted had there country been invaded or occupied by foreign forces. The Afghans will lay down their arms no sooner the foreign troops leave their land. Pathans have never been subjugated and never ever will they be. They are extremely hospitable and there are many jokes about them fighting over who will be host to the guests. Let these foreigners come to their country as their guests and find out how courteous they are but do not tinker with their culture and their way of governance as they are very independent and proud people.
    No implants like Paul Refsdal,drone attacks,massacres,or massive scale destruction can break their will as they are not afraid to die and we have all witnessed it time and again. Foreign troops have destroyed their country and their social fabric and sooner than later will have to leave so why more killings with inconclusive results.
    All foreign troops must leave Afghanistan and let the Afghan people decide their own future. This will ultimately be the end result now whether we want it to happen without any further destruction and bloodshed or leave their country now after all the mayhem but the invaders will never be forgiven for sure for a very very long time as they will take their pound of flesh before calling it quits.
    I hope i am wrong but what has been stated here are facts about brave Pathans of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  • Anwar Ul Haque  On December 12, 2010 at 2:23 am

    Bismillah hir Rehman nir Raheem

    Assalamo Alaikum.

    CNN is a Zionist organization and part of so called American Defense Forces (Indirectly). What can you expect from such a dishonest materialistic organization but to distort facts and create all sorts of fabrications. Be careful of them as Quran-e-Majeed has warned us.

    Anwar Ul Haque

  • KN  On December 12, 2010 at 8:03 am

    To Michael Hughes,
    Would you like to be the next Paul Refsdal?
    I can arrange that for you. But this one would be in Kandahar.
    Let me know ..

  • Sayyedain Zariff  On December 12, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Haqiqat chup nahien saktee banavat kay usuloon sey or Jhoot kay usoolon sey

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