Under the Radar

How to Build an Afghan Army: Camp Victory, Afghanistan


With combat operations in Iraq officially ending – the attention of the world and particularly the US military is shifting to Afghanistan. In a distant and beautiful land where the British, the Soviets and most recently the Taliban have failed to establish stable governments, we are left to answer the question: What will it take to one day celebrate the end of combat operations in Afghanistan? 

Carol Dysinger, an award-winning documentarian and professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts first went to Afghanistan in 2005 where she sought to make a film that would concentrate on nation building rather than combat. Her subject would be the training and development of the Afghan National Army, a critical need for that nation if US forces ever plan on leaving.

The result is Camp Victory, Afghanistan, a powerful and compelling documentary that will be featured on PBS stations across the US in the next month, with a run on PBS World on September 22nd.

Visit:    http://www.itvs.org/films/camp-victory-afghanistan for broadcast times in your area.

What was your motivation for looking at the Afghan National Army?

By 2005, Afghanistan was disappearing behind Iraq.  This concerned me, because I felt that in Afghanistan was where the real effort was needed.  Afghanistan by accident of fate, history or geography, seems to be the place where the world goes to duke out its problems, the Great Game, The Cold War, and now the War against AQ. If our exit strategy was to stand up the Afghan Security Forces so that they could fight and we could leave, no one was talking about it.  There was all kinds of reporting on so many things, mostly kinetic, but nothing on the one thing that could allow us to leave, that would keep us from being yet another Great Power with a Proxy in Afghanistan.

So I just went.  Now, I am not a journalist. Nobody assigned me to go, nobody paid me to go.  I am a film maker.  It's different.  I kept a low profile, and a light footprint and that allowed me to film for three years. I was not interested in combat.  This is not a war that will be won by force of western arms in the field.  The fight, at least as I saw it, was buying the time to train the Afghans to take up the fight themselves as a national army, and not a band of tribal armies that fall into civil war the minute the enemy is expelled.   So I followed the training. I followed the "Nation Building".   This meant, in 2005, I followed the National Guard. And it was an incredible.

How long did you spend in the country? What did you learn about Afghanistan along the way?

I went five times, for about two months each, from 2005 to 2008.  I have been trying to get back ever since. I had no idea what to expect.  But if anything it was the incredible difference between over there and here. I vowed that I would take down that wall, try to make a film that was really like being over there. But it is impossible.  It is such a different mind set, and I am not talking about the Afghans.  People ask me "What was it like" and I can not explain. That is what I tried to do in this documentary.  What you see in the news is nothing like what it is. And I think when people see my film it is so NOT what they expect coming out of a "War zone" that it is difficult for them. Anyone who has been there will feel right at home.

What do you see in Afghanistan's future?

Afghanistan will always be between China, Russia, the other  Stans, Iran And Pakistan.  Think about that.   That's crazy. That will never change, and that means a lot of things about it will never change. Their democracy will not look like ours, their army will not look like ours. As long as we remain a scaffolding for what they need to do, and don't grab the toy out of their hands - there is hope.  But when we brush them aside, when we don't take them into account,  ( even if things may go smoother for the moment) - they will not turn out well.

It's a wonderful and resilient country.  They don't hate us as a nation, There are a lot more sophisticated and interesting people there then you might think. General Sayar was one of a kind, but he is not the only one of his kind in the country.

We sometimes rely too much on people who have left and gone back, and not enough on the people who remained through all those thirty years. Personally, I think we sometimes expect too much and feel they have failed, when I think they are doing pretty well.  It is just not matching the Power Point some jockey put up on the board.


Both the television hour and a longer feature version are available for purchase on DVD and will hopefully be streaming on the net soon.

(Disclosure: As a student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts from 2003 to 2008, I studied with -- and --was advised by-  Carol Dysinger.


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