This is victory. This is what winning looks like.
May 17, 2013 1:13 PM   Subscribe

"This is What Winning Looks Like is a disturbing new documentary about the ineptitude, drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and corruption of the Afghan security forces as well as the reduced role of US Marines due to the troop withdrawal." [via vice]

"In part one, we see just how chaotic and hopeless the situation is in Sangin, one of the most violent towns in Afghanistan."

"In part two, we see on-the-ground footage of fighting between the Afghan forces and the Taliban as well as insightful commentary from the documentary's producer, Ben Anderson. There are also exclusive interviews with the US Ambassador and the British Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan about the prospect of peace in the region."

"In part three, we see that the sad truth is, at the end of the day, we will be leaving behind ill-prepared security forces, which will likely lead to an increase in Taliban attacks, civilian casualties, and, overall, an increasingly dangerous and fragile nation."

Based on the work of British journalist Ben Anderson, who also produced Taking On the Taliban, showing his time embedded with the British Armed Forces.
posted by Drexen (45 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

Vice's Friday-night HBO show has become absolute must-see television.
posted by jbickers at 1:36 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mission Accomplished?
posted by darkstar at 2:06 PM on May 17, 2013

Let me explain one more thing, alright... we're taking time out of our lives... the marines are, everybody here is taking times out of our lives to come down here, away from our families to help you guys (part 1, ~4min)

So, there are funny bits.
posted by fredludd at 2:18 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ben Anderson did a reddit AMA today, which ought to be mentioned.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 2:25 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

So, there are funny bits.

Actually, the Marines on the ground are the only people who come out well here.
posted by neroli at 2:49 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

tl;dw: Jumping jacks, Afghan style.

You've really got to admire these lads. Getting a steady paycheck from Uncle Sam and not getting shot by your crazy Taliban brother-in-law must be a hard enough balancing act, but they're even having trolltastic fun doing it.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 2:55 PM on May 17, 2013

How the fuck do you fix something like this? Like even a rough plan that's actually feasible in this situation.
posted by Talez at 3:05 PM on May 17, 2013

So, there are funny bits.

It's not funny. It's really sad.

I served in South Korea, which is nothing like this at all, but I still had to get up every morning—even the mornings we couldn't go off post because people were protesting at the gates and there'd been violence between soldiers and civilians—and think to myself "I'm here because we think the alternative is worse."

Korean soldiers I worked with were pretty polite about the whole thing, and most said stuff like "we need the US here until we can work things out," but a few said "you make our lives worse and our future more uncertain," including one who said he couldn't be my friend anymore because I was a representative of everything fucked about life on that peninsula. Old folks who had maybe lived through the war were friendlier, younger ones less so.

So maybe you end up doing some selective hearing because the alternative is waking up every morning and thinking "I've got no business being here and maybe I am making things worse and maybe I could just die for a bunch of people who don't even want me here," and that's not a helpful thing to be thinking for a year.

So, self-deceiving, maybe, but just not funny.
posted by mph at 3:16 PM on May 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

Marine advisor: "Working with child molesters, working with people who are robbing people, murdering them. It wears on you after a while."
posted by jcrcarter at 3:19 PM on May 17, 2013

I don't think anyone with half a brain isn't aware that Afghanistan is going to be an absolute shit-show in about two years, even more than it already is.

This is what twelve years of war and a trillion or so dollars get you.
posted by Fister Roboto at 3:20 PM on May 17, 2013

When you are an alien invading force, the people who will work with you and the people you empower are the most corrupt and incompetent people in the local society. The idealists are not going to be working for the invading Christian army. Obviously the issue is not that the Afghans are lousy soldiers; they have been known for thousands of years as some of the fiercest warriors in the world. But those Afghans are not fighting with us.
posted by zipadee at 3:28 PM on May 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Wow. I've only watched 30 minutes so far, and I would consider myself a patient person, but if I were one of those Marines, I would have walked away weeks ago. To be so consistently ignored by people you are supposed to be need your help (who are also high on heroin in some cases), and yet to remain so fucking calm and measured, takes some serious character. Some real heroes right there.
posted by jontyjago at 3:37 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If only they could do jumping jacks properly in Afghanistan. Then they would be on the path to modernity!

BTW, did you teach grade school at Thornlodge Elementary in the seventies?
posted by srboisvert at 3:42 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Half way through part two, the American Ambassador asks a marine major if it's working, "that whole cooperation learning thing, that's all taking place?" I don't know what's worse, the shallow question or the glib answer.
posted by peeedro at 4:01 PM on May 17, 2013

Well, that was a very good, albeit depressing, documentary. Thanks for sharing.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 5:29 PM on May 17, 2013

OK, so now I've watched the whole thing and as depressing as it was, and yet how inspiring I find the work of people like Major Steuber (who I now have a total man-crush on), that conclusion of "it's our fault for putting the wrong people in power", was barely covered in the film and now I'm a bit confused. Who should they have put in power? Why are those in power the wrong ones?
posted by jontyjago at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2013

Yeah, part of the reason it was such a good documentary, I think, is that it actually had a hero. I wonder what's going to happen to Major Steuber. He's clearly not just a very good person, but a very smart person. What is his next step after this shitshow?
posted by neroli at 5:49 PM on May 17, 2013

I watched the entire thing. It's a great documentary, and I liked the format, but man, so much circular, infinite awfulness. When Major Steuber was talking about the generator that is so technically complicated that no one can run it, I just imagine the generator maker that lobbied some congressman to support this war so they could supply expensive generators that are too complicated to be used. And you know that Afghans have been working with gas engines because they have cars, so there are generators that they can use and repair, but that's not the kind taxpayers paid to send over to power their police bases. Et cetera.

I hope Major Steuber and the other people like him that are trying to do their best in the face of a big gaping maw of clusterfuck live through it okay. Especially the Afghan people.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:59 PM on May 17, 2013

I too just finished watching, and I have no ability to comment on such a hopeless situation. But I come away more thankful for the civilization in which I live, and I take it for granted a bit less.
posted by rlk at 6:20 PM on May 17, 2013

The Wikipedia page Politics of Afghanistan gives an overview of who's in charge at the moment under the administration of Hamid Karzai.

My understanding is that power has mostly fallen into the hands of the warlords associated with the Northern alliance, who fought the Taliban during the civil war between the Soviet war and the American-led war. Although they are more Western-aligned, and less fundamentalist than the Taliban, they attract hostility from the populace because of the carnage the warlords caused in the civil war and of course their ties with the West. There is particular enmity from the southern part of the country where the Taliban are strongest, because of ethnic and many other tensions. There are also internecine struggles within the NA, and rampant corruption in their areas because the situation allows for and encourages it.

Support for them is weak because of these (and many other) issues and because, as in the documentary, it's understood that the Taliban will retake much or all of the country once the Americans are gone, just as the struggling warlords overtook the ANA and the Soviet-backed government once the Soviets left.

I don't have an answer on who they think should have been put in power, if anyone. It's possible that other leaders within the NA might have worked better than Karzai, who seems to have worked his way into power through political wrangling and/or good luck. More likely they might mean building up a new power base out of local, unaffiliated politicians and/or more neutral tribal leaders/elders. A more moderate religious group might have offered possibilities but I couldn't name anyone specifically.

It's interesting to speculate on what might have happened if Ahmed Shah Massoud hadn't been killed the day before 9/11. Although his hands were not clean, they may not have truly been as dirty as the documentary seems to suggest, and there are indications he may have had what it took to save the country, or at least do better than what we ended up with.

There are various traditional political methods in Afghanistan for solving problems and creating peace across warring tribes and factions, and it's possible they could (in theory) have been used to come up with better solutions than the US nation-building approach, and in some ways they were used or tried, but they seem to have usually been surface-only. I've found the Tribal Analysis Center to have a lot of interesting research on this subject such as this and this. This US military training document also makes an interesting read.

Although there's little chance of them gaining any real power any time soon, one group who have been calling for the things I think most of us would like to see in Afghanistan, for a long time and despite tremendous adversity, is the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (official website, mostly in English).
posted by Drexen at 6:28 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

No, this is what losing looks like. This is what it looks like when the only thing you are interested in is an "exit strategy".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:34 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

(The RAWA, by the way, are not fans of Massoud. His support/lionization in the West may just be our slanted, cynical/idealistic bias. I really don't know, myself, not least because it's so hard to track down reliable information about what did/didn't happen at the time and what his exact involvement was. Either way, he was almost certainly killed by Al Qaeda exactly to prevent him coming into power after the American retaliation.)
posted by Drexen at 6:38 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the other hand this story on NPR from earlier this week has me thinking those kids are gonna be alright. Afghanistan is a poor country with ongoing low intensity conflict and lots of social problems; but it isn't going back and it is a hell of a lot better than when we got there.
posted by humanfont at 7:23 PM on May 17, 2013

Yes, you can talk about "the ineptitude, drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and corruption of the Afghan security forces"...

Just be aware that the Afghans themselves view the current government as the best since before the Soviet invasion, according to a poll that was taken about a year ago. (Having a hard time finding the link, though.)

52% believe the country is moving in the right direction, up from 46% the year before. 93% reported having a fair amount or a great deal of confidence in the Afghan National Army. The reported incidence of crime and violence dropped by about a third in just one year. 63% have no sympathy at all for armed opposition groups in Afghanistan, compared to 10% who say they have a lot of sympathy for them. The majority reported that their financial well-being has improved, as has security.

Afghanistan is messed up, and, as this documentary shows, you can't go to FOBs on the outskirts of Kandahar and expect to see the kind of order you'd expect elsewhere. Things are much more professional in and around Kabul and in the north... but still, it's functional enough, by their standards. It's getting better, gradually... but yeah, it will be a long, hard slog, and that slog belongs to the Afghan people.
posted by markkraft at 7:44 PM on May 17, 2013

I would also question the criticism of the Afghan National Army as being, in effect, the Northern Alliance.

Certainly, the Northern Alliance formed it's initial core, but the fact is, the demographics have changed and are still changing. Local Southern Pashtuns are signing up much more actively than they did previously, in part because the army has made it easier for them to get training to become an officer, and is actively taking steps to recruit in the south.

The people of Afghanistan are starting to show real signs of having a strong national identity, with their army at the core of that sentiment. They're increasingly opposed to Pakistani interventionism in their nation, which will only further diversify and encourage recruitment. (It will also set India up as relatively favorable miltary / business partners, as a way of undermining Pakistan.)
posted by markkraft at 8:31 PM on May 17, 2013

Wait, we conquered Afghanistan? The first country to ever do so? yeah, no I don't think so at all. Karzai'll be shot at the first chance one of his power hungry right hand men gets brave enough, and then well there ya go.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 9:58 PM on May 17, 2013

" Karzai'll be shot at the first chance..."

Karzai is term limited. A new Afghan president will be elected on April 5th, 2014... and shortly after that, the last US ground combat forces will go home.

"A new president will come to this country. A new government will come to this country. And I'll be a happily retired civil servant. I think as far as the U.S. is concerned, the main task is accomplished."
- Hamad Karzai, Jan. 2013
posted by markkraft at 10:41 PM on May 17, 2013

This assumes they have a peaceful transfer of power.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 10:51 PM on May 17, 2013

Karzai knows he has no real option but to step down.

If he tried to stay, he'd find the people in other countries who pay his army's paychecks suddenly having cash flow problems, followed shortly thereafter by a coup. But if he goes, he knows he can safely retire with a massive fortune... much of which he stole from his own people.
posted by markkraft at 11:36 PM on May 17, 2013

What a fucking mess. Why the hell can't all those billions of (taxpayer) dollars be spent on US schools, health care, infrastructure, etc. What a huge fucking crock of shit all this is. Goddam military/industrial complex has ruined America, turned it into a war machine with no actual purpose other than lining the pockets of Halliburton et al. Taken insane amounts of money and human resources and poured 'em down various rat holes, for years and years. What a fucking mess. What a sham.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:34 AM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just finished reading Return of a King by William Dalrymple. Can't recommend it highly enough. It is stunning just how thoroughly this war is replaying the First Afghan War. One small example: Karzai is from the same sub-tribe as the puppet the British put on the throne the first time.
posted by BinGregory at 3:04 AM on May 18, 2013

Fwiw most of the money was actually borrowed from Chinese taxpayers. So really it wasn't your money spent on this anyway.
posted by humanfont at 6:23 AM on May 18, 2013

Speaking of China: ‘A Chinese Threat to Afghan Buddhas’

posted by homunculus at 10:14 AM on May 18, 2013

Karzai knows he has no real option but to step down.

Step down into what? Read up on his life's story, this isn't a weary warrior ready to retire to his family farm, he's a politician, a tribal leader, and much more than a figurehead for a new way of doing business in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai got to where he is by swimming through several rivers of shit and only having a little of the sewage stick. Americans should acknowledge and admire this trait, our political leaders should have so much luck and longevity.

To me, he has limited options: a self-imposed exile after his presidency, maintaining extra-legal power in Afghanistan until he meets the same fate as his father (execution by Taliban gunmen), or some nuts move like being elected Secretary-General of the UN then one of the above mentioned endings.
posted by peeedro at 8:29 PM on May 18, 2013

I guess I'm trying to say that nobody is wondering if Karzai going to be the Jefferson or Adams of Afghanistan, instead we're wondering if he'll be the Van Buren, Buchanan, or Grant of Afghanistan.
posted by peeedro at 8:41 PM on May 18, 2013

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