Documentary Review – ‘This Is What Winning Looks Like’
‘This is what winning looks like’ is one of the best documentaries I have watched this year. The title derives from a genuine conviction of General John R. Allen remarking what he envisioned the Afghanistan war legacy to be: ‘‘Afghan forces defending Afghan people and enabling the government of this country to serve its citizens. This is victory, this is what winning looks like, and we should not shrink from using these words.’’
Directed by the award winning journalist Ben Anderson, you quickly realise that the title is used with great irony revealing the true despondent state of the country, her corrupt leaders and the war battered civilians that were cast into this mess by the lottery of life.
Over the years I have seen a number of documentaries and television shows following soldiers serving in the problematic middle-eastern hotspots. The central purpose of those war-docos has usually been to give the viewers some sense of what a raw state of war feels like and the gritty situations that the soldiers have to immerse themselves in. ‘This is what winning looks like’ has little of that, instead Anderson directs his gaze at the Afghan army and police who will ultimately be responsible for holding back the fort from what the US sees as the scourge of the Taliban.
With the official withdrawal of US and allied troops scheduled for late 2014, the sand of time in the hourglass of establishing a stable government is rapidly dwindling away. Anderson comments that this is the first time he sees the Afghan army conducting missions without the US troops leading the charge. Yet this frail hand-over of the leadership baton dishearteningly exposes just how woeful the situation is. Anderson who interviews Major Stueber who is there to assist the transition, laments that the current situation is dire: both the Afghan army/police force are ill equipped, poorly trained and contain soldiers who are barely teens, drug addicts or worse still who defect to the Taliban. We witness one scene in which marijuana plants are freely being cultivated outside the police station, while in another incident the police recruits who are meant to be filling sandbags with soil to create some fortification are so high on opium that they can barely keep balance let alone tie a sandbag. Eventually the guy in charge of those police units stops some civilians and forces them to help-out.
One particular scene is revealing of the severity of problems that exist in the re-building effort: Major Stueber confronts the Afghan police chief over the latest incident in which a ‘chai-boy’ (a kidnapped pre-teen boy who is used for rape) was killed by a police commander, after the boy was trying to escape. The police chief doesn’t deny that Afghan police commanders hold chai-boys captive, in fact he rhetorically asks who if not the chai-boys are meant to be used for sex, the commanders grandmothers? The frustration on the chiefs face is evident as he snarls that he has to hear this ‘talk’ again. He insists that these boys “volunteer” themselves. After a long meeting Major Stueber attempts to track those police officers who are responsible, but the next day he is told to drop the investigation by the higher-ups. The levels of corruption and other major problems are so high that such incidents are brushed under the proverbial carpet.
I don’t recall if the documentary has the scene or it’s only the related Vice article that contains the quote that seems to sum up the futility of the situation; a local Mullah tells the reporter ““The Taliban will be here half an hour after you leave,”.
I encourage to watch this 90 minute documentary on the Vice Network.