While recently embedded with U.S. Marines assigned to train Afghan soldiers and police in Afghanistan, filmmaker Ben Anderson found the country ill-prepared to take over its own security.
His new documentary for Vice, “This is What Winning Looks Like,” takes a shocking look at the war in Afghanistan and the guardians to which U.S. and British forces will be entrusting the country after withdrawing. With a sharp lens focused on the ineptitude, drug abuse, sexual misconduct, criminality and corruption of Afghan security forces, many parts of the film are disturbing. Anderson shows how different life is on the ground compared with media reports and official statements about the war-torn country.
The full video is split into three parts on YouTube and runs roughly an hour and a half. But if you want to skip straight to the best parts – although some clips arguably can be considered the worst parts – I’ve gone through and highlighted nine of the more eyebrow-raising moments from Anderson’s piece.
1. The title, “This is What Winning Looks Like,” is a quote from a speech made by U.S. Gen. John R. Allen on his last day serving as the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
2. Anderson talks to Vice’s Eddy Moretti about disloyalty and defection in the Afghan ranks. Some soldiers prove themselves unreliable, possibly even unstable. Anderson notes that Afghan army units might not know who their enemies are. (Warning: This clip starts with loud gunfire, so you may want to lower your volume.)
3. In addition to desertion, drug abuse is rampant among the Afghan forces – Anderson didn’t have to look far to find evidence.
4. It’s not just weed that Afghan police officers are using. Anderson sees that some may be ingesting harder drugs and questions whether these men are ready to defend their country and the safety of civilians.
5. In this next clip, U.S. Maj. Bill Steuber, the Marine in charge of the U.S. police advisory team to Afghanistan, struggles to fight corruption within the Afghan police ranks. Anderson goes on to discuss one of the most egregious acts perpetrated: commanders routinely abducting young men and forcing them to become house servants and possibly sex slaves.
6. Steuber marches into the Afghan police chief’s office and finds resistance. The top cop shows disregard for the physical and sexual safety of young males on the bases. At the same time, he claims the victims want to be there. (Warning: This clip contains strong language and sexual subject matter.)
7. When the U.S. ambassador and British deputy ambassador show up in Sangin – the most dangerous town in Afghanistan – U.S. Marines assure them that progress is being made and the counterinsurgency and transition plans are working. To make their point, they screen a rousing PR video.
8. After the briefing, Sangin residents gather and air their true feelings about the allied forces leaving them to their own devices – statements that contrast starkly with the glowing overview U.S. commanders gave.
9. Anderson shares the above sentiment. He concludes the film with a dark assessment of what the future may hold for Afghanistan.
One more thing: If you wonder how women are faring in Afghanistan, watch “Prisoners of Tradition.” The Center for Investigative Reporting’s documentary looks at the lives of Afghan women, the implications for their security as allied troops withdraw, and the challenges they face in escaping arranged marriage and living independently.
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