By now, if you watch VBS.TV (and ordinary lame TV) you should have come across Ben Anderson. He's guided us through his trips to Afghanistan, and told us about Obama's War on VBS. Tonight his new film, Bravo's Deadly Mission, a Dispatches Special, airs on Channel 4. The film follows a platoon of US Marines as they are dropped into the middle of Taliban stronghold, Marjah as part of Operation Mushtaraq. We called up Ben to obsequiously fawn at his feet.
Vice: Hello Ben. I just watched your film, it's great.
One of the first things to hit you as you watch the film is the terrible relations between the Afghan National Army and the American soldiers.
Yeah, it was no surprise, I have seen exactly the same with the Brits before. A major with the British Army in 2007 described them as untrainable. The most ridiculous thing here was that it was called operation Mushtaraq, which means "togetherness" and the General was claiming that the operation was Afghan led, I mean, that's ridiculous. The problem is that those guys have to be able to stand up alone and do the job so we can leave. No one is willing to say the truth publicly, but the soldiers I talked to on the ground say that those Afghan soldiers are ten years away from being able to do the job – but we cant say that, because we aren't going to stay there for ten more years.
There is one moment when US marines pretty much shove the afghans through a door first so that they can say the operation was in part afghan led.
The same with the flag-raising ceremony too, it's all a bit forced. Unfortunately I didn't capture it on film, but two Afghan soldiers had heroin overdoses in camp where we were sleeping, they were saved by the US medics.
Do the US soldiers feel that these ANA troops are a risk to them?
It doesn't have that much affect on them really. Each platoon has only two ANA soldiers with them, if it was equal numbers then yeah it would be very different. When I went out with the Brits they said it was like "herding cats, cats with guns".
The soldiers you were with didn't seem too constrained by the rules of engagement.
Apart from the superior officers, most troops would say they they'd rather have much looser rules of engagement so they can just go in and kill people and the battle would be won. But they come to accept that the rules of engagement are the way they are because civilian casualties are what have turned the local population against the troops.
Towards the end of the film you touched on the fact that NATO and the Afghan government are really trying to instill this sense of nationalism and unity amongst the Afghans.
Yeah, but it's completely split and a lot of people think that all they're really doing is training one side for a civil war which is going to happen when we pull out. The ANA is massively dominated by the Tajiks and the northern groups while the Taliban are overwhelmingly Pashtun and those divisions are absolutely rife.
There's a major part of the film where C Company accidentally fire a rocket into a compound housing civilians. They all seem traumatised by this, especially McClane.
Yeah he's a Rhodes scholar who spent six years at Oxford studying Arabic and is now in a country where no-one speaks Arabic. They read all the neo-con stuff and really believe they're out there fighting the war on terror. He said to me that the people of Afghanistan shouldn't fall under the heel of Islamic fascism again, he really has thought it through and thinks he's out there doing a good thing. So the rocket accident hit him really hard.
It's amazing how calm the troops seem, even with the constant threat of attack and betrayal.
By the end of it a lot of them invite danger. Some soldiers openly want a fight, they believe that if they do get into a fight that they'll come out as winners. The problem is if they do the military job perfectly and clear-out the Taliban, at some point they have to hand it over to the Afghan National Government. Two years ago Marja used to be controlled by the government and the police there had the reputation of being thieves and rapists. The local people prefer the Taliban, where there isn't any corruption, or rape, or robbery. That's where the battle for hearts and minds will be won or lost, getting the people to trust the government and not the Taliban.