Camp Victory Afghanistan follows several soldiers — Afghan and American — across the divide of language, culture, and religion as they attempt to accomplish a near impossible task: crafting a modern army to serve a struggling nation. Filmmaker Carol Dysinger provided BTB with some backround on the project. Camp Victory airs this month on Public Television. In 2001 we went into Afghanistan with the support of the world, it seemed. By 2003 we were doing regime change and Afghanistan disappeared behind the news of our adventures in Iraq. By 2005 it was like they were one thing. One nightmarish mistake. But they weren’t the same.
What is a good war? Is there such a thing? As a child of World War Two, and a teenager during the Vietnam conflict I had grown up in the stories of war from both sides of that question. When I saw the buildings billowing smoke downtown, I knew it was no accident. I thought “Well, here we go.” A great tension in the world had been released into violence.
America had been hit. Now what? With a few Special Forces Teams, various Afghan militia groups, and targeted air support, the Taliban were run out of Afghanistan by the beginning of 2002. All this with the military budget and staffing that we had on September 10th 2001. Afghanistan was in shambles, a destruction that had begun with the Russian invasion, been continued by a devastating civil war, and continued through the Taliban’s rule. The damage our bombs made was minimal compared to what had gone on before. We were “bouncing the rubble,” said Cheney. There was nothing left to bomb. Now what? Nation building. That’s what. I got the concept, but I could not figure out what it really meant. Where was it happening who was doing it, what were they doing when they did it, and what does it look like? And, hello, if this is our exit strategy, (says the child of the Vietnam War) it better be working. But I couldn’t see it. No one was looking at it. So I just went. I went, and I stayed, then I went back and stayed some more, until I had worked through all the press releases and power points and dog and pony shows to find the human face of our policy.
The training of the Afghan National Security Forces (so that they could deny Al Qeda safe haven on their own and we could leave), was the stated policy of the time. When I landed in Herat, I found the National Guard training the Afghan National Army, day in and day out. No one was ashamed of what they were doing. Everyone was trying. Crawl Walk Run. That was what the Americans would say about the Afghans. It is a new army. How good was George Washington's militias at this stuff? You can’t run before you can crawl. What I did was set aside my assumptions as best I could and film for three plus years.
One of the fundamental things I witnessed is that every country that was there, as part of the ISAF international effort, or as a proxy, was fighting it’s own war. Either a war in its past, a war it feared in its future, or an unresolved conflict internationally. Afghanistan, for some accident of geography, history or fate, seems to be the arena in which other nations conflicts keep being fought. What is the line between training them, and using them to fight our battles? Are we capable of standing back and letting them do what they need to do or will we always rip it out of their hands and do it ourselves? Where is the line between help and occupation? The truth of the matter is, Afghanistan has had many armies and none of them looked like ours. But as General Sayar says in my film, “Thirty years of war is no joke.” And that is a very difficult thing for us to understand, the human ways in which that is true. Friday, August 12, 2010 the New York Times has on Page 4 an article about the Afghan National Army taking its own show on the road.
It is hard to say how they did from what I have read. They did not “win” in the movie sense of the word. How hard was it, depends on who you listen to. It’s ten blind men describing the elephant. Two of them speak English and can translate. The other eight are not speaking to each other, and you know one of them is lying but you aren’t sure which one. Camp Victory Afghanistan is an attempt to show you what I saw. I take no position. Or tried not to. It is a fascinating place, and these are wonderful and amazing people. If you keep an open mind you will be surprised. I was.
Watch an interview with Carol Dysinger on Camp Victory Afghanistan from PBS NewsHour:
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