Afghanistan: The Other War

Story Synopsis & Video Afghanistan: The Other War

The General Walking; Kids' Medical Day

As President Bush pledges another $10 billion to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, and a spring offensive is expected against a resurgent Taliban, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sam Kiley reports from the frontlines of the conflict, where dual battles are being fought to win the trust of the Afghan people and combat the extremists living among them. In the film, Kiley and his crew are granted unprecedented access to the outgoing British NATO commander David Richards who led 37,000 troops from 37 countries.

Kiley also travels with a battle-hardened Canadian unit stationed in Taliban territory in the south near the city of Kandahar. Their task is to provide humanitarian aid to local villages. Rather than showing the usual ground flashes of aerial bombings or chaos in city streets following a car bomb attack, Kiley's film is an unfiltered and often painstaking look at the other realities of war: solitary mortar fire into a barren mountainside at a seemingly faceless enemy; winning the trust of the Afghan people one mud-brick village at a time; and the futility and frustrations that often come with these encounters. And at a higher level, he shows how NATO is responding to criticism from the Afghan and international media about its perceived slow progress in stabilizing a country that has known nothing but conflict for the past 30 years.

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San Diego, CA
I couldn't help but think while watching the Canadians abandon their position, and the little town, to join the fight closer to Kandahar because "their troops were badly needed" that we'd have more than enough troops and resources to hold ground if they weren't being drained by the unnecessary war in Iraq.

Julian Kollias
Philadelphia, Pensylvania

In regards to Mr. Gregory Wonderwheel,You have some highly critical opinions, yet you offer no solutions. Have you ever served in the military? Have you ever been on a combat deployment? There is tremendous difficulty in creating a situation where there is instaneoous rapport built with an indigenous population; it rarely happens. The population in Elbak knows that their fate is pushed in between a vise--they're damned if they cooperate with coalition forces and damned if they don't. Either way, it's a precarious situation.
Since you know so much about human nature, why don't you head on out to Afghanistan and change things? Put down your Starbucks latte, get out of the sunny, cushy lifestyle you have in California, pick up a ruck and do something besides criticize things YOU don't know much about. If not, then shut up and be grateful to live in a democratic country where you have the ability to capiltalize on many freedoms, including the freedom to write something completely ridiculous like your comments.

Eric Thompson
Seattle, WA

I am very proud of the Canadians for their effort. This film shows, just, an example of the kind of frustration that a soldier must go through. Working for the US government, I know how first hand that you are expected to work wonders with your hands tied, then be the recipient of fingers pointed from all directions when you fail. I'm distgusted with the Bush Adminstration for starting the war in Iraq and leaving NATO to deal the problems in Afghanastan.

The mission as shown was a comedy of errors: Making promises you can't keep.
Endangering lives on the "Spark Plug Mission": unbelievable.
Stating a time/date you will arrive with Med teams: [set up for] an ambush.
Trying to distribute food by throwing it into a crowd: a way to start a fight...

Oher probelms: Renting trust short term and abandoning the villagers which only re-enforces the long term credibility of the Taliban...

Instead of battle hardened to describe the platoon, I believe [it should be termed] naive and not ready...

Unfortunatley, this is the standard unit that deploys and NATO needs to create special infantry battalions whose ONLY role is for Counter-Insurgency, rather than the naive and ridiculous attempts to use a standard soldier for all spectrums of warfare, particullarly reserve elements.

No disrespect at all to the unit who did their best with the resources, trainiing and leadership available.

Mississauga, Ontario
I just finished my Soldier Qualification training on July 27,2007 in Meaford, ON. Sgt. Bascon was my Section IC, she's down to earth and very professional. She scares the crap out of every candidate on base that isn't part of our platoon. I regret not asking her about her experiences in Afghanistan in the time we had with her. Her role in Afghanistan has inspired me. I'm considering a tour there sometime in the future.

Michael Mann

Having watched the video, with the spin that was put on the story one could and should come away thinking that we were less than successful in our mission at Martello. That being said we did the best we could with what we had. It's not like we could run down to the local auto parts store and grab spark plugs to fix a bunch of Honda water pumps. Our No.1 concern over there was to go in, help these people to the best of our ability and get back home alive. If anyone thinks they could do a better job then by all means step up to the plate, we could sure use you.

P.S. Special thanks to the producer for not including any of my profanity laced rants. My mom would have been upset to hear me speak like that.

Toronto, On

There is no question that switching attention to Iraq has deprived the US of a success in Afghanistan, while creating a disaster (so far) in Iraq. But then another rant on the Bush Administration incompetence will be nothing new. I think Bob Ramage has it right. If we don't have the forces to provide security for the entire country, then we should focus on smaller areas and do it right. That will not only allow us to do a better job there, but enhance the likelihood of being able to develop a truly effective Afghan Army that can eventually stand shoulder to shoulder with us to take back the entire country and allow our troops to come home.

Make no mistake, I want the mission to succeed. And, this is not a rant against our militaries. I have tremendous admiration for our troops and a lot of the commanders, even if I am inclined to believe some of the posts that state that they are sometimes a bit slow to learn new things.

kabul, afghanistan
No war in Afghanistan.

Miles T
Antigonish, NS

As the Russians found out in the 1980's -- particularly in the south of Afghanistan -- you control only the ground beneath your boots. That is the reality of the situation.

I sympathize with the soldiers. We are asking them to do a monumental and difficult job on the cheap. Every politician should take a crash course in Clausewitz's theory of war. Rule #1 -- Never involve yourself in a conflict unless you are willing to do EVERYTHING necessary to win it. As Douglas MacArthur said: to fight a war with half an effort is fatal.

As a coalition we are failing. The only people sacrificing in the war effort are the soldiers.

richard Q
shanghai, china

I never believe that taliban and al qaeda would be capable of making comeback so long as the coalitions stay fact counter insurgency is not the task of the us only--it is the issue deciding our fate---to die or surrender ---no bystander in the war on anti terrorism.

Shir Mohammad Kandahari
Kandahar, Afghnistan

The Canadians came to Afghanistan to serve and help us but unfortunately what they are doing now in Kandahar is conducting a war. For example, at night they are going to people's houses and killing civilians. They are arresting farmers and then nicking them in front of all the people which is a big shame for all Afghanis, especialy Kandaharies. And some times they are bombarding civilians. If there is an explosion or suicide attack on them [the Canadian peacekeepers], then they are shooting back at civilians. So now you are judges: are they bringing peace or war?

cortlandt manor, N.Y.
Very enlightening.

I see so much of this and yet nothing is done to help the needy, a lot of fighting but no aid, why?

Donald Koehler
Ft Campbell, KY

I was the commander of the Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team (Profiled elsewhere in this series). I'm generally not a huge fan of PBS or NPR but I'll give credit where it's due and this piece deserves much. My heart went out to the Soldiers at FOB Martello. The Civil Affairs mission is hard for anyone who has it, but most especially for Soldiers trained primarily for a kinetic fight. I would say they did many things right and some crucial things wrong, beginning with making promises to the locals. I NEVER promised something unless I already had it in my pocket.

The viewer who laments the lack of training most Soldiers have in CA is spot on to cry out for more and better training, but dead wrong that blood and treasure aren't being allocated. The US alone sends over 1000 Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers to Afghanistan every year with no other purpose than to man the PRTs. Their funding comes directly from the top US commander in the country and there is an entire staff element at the headquarters that coordinates and orchestrates their activities. NATO does the same at its HQ and the roughly 12-15 NATO PRTs are all nationally supported representatives of their countries executing their respective foreign policies. I would respectfully submit this effort is enormous, focused and multilateral.

If I have a criticism of the film it's that I would much rather you showed the Canadian PRT at work. There I think you would have had much more uplifting copy. On the other hand the PRTs are pretty good at what they do and PBS is no more immune to the journalism dictum that disaster sells than are network media outlets. It is also a fact of land war in Afghanistan that every unit conducts CA on some level, not just the PRTs. So showing one who got some of it wrong is valid journalism, I just wish you'd shown more of the units who do fabulous work getting it right.

Anyone who drilled past the film into the pages of supporting data could read my interview. Cudos to PBS for not only getting the transcript nearly perfect but also for putting the audio out there in its entirety for all to hear. You took the time to get the whole story and post it. There you differ from sound bite media and I commend you. Should any of you wish to know more about PRTs and their missions please check elsewhere on this site. There's quite a bit of good information. If you have more questions get in touch with PBS, they'll know how to pass you on to me.

Lt Col Donald Koehler, USAF
Commander, Bagram PRT (April 06-April 07)

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Thank you, sir, for your comments. We're glad to hear from you and appreciate having your interview on our site.

Peter Coghill
Tsurugashima, (Country) JAPAN

Dear Frontline,

I sympathise with decent minded people like Nicola. She obviously wants to help the Afghan people. However I have doubts about the efficacy and competence of NATO as a military or even administrative organisation.

When Nicola's soldiers were re-deployed from FOB Martello, the British reporter need not have added his forebodings about what would happen to the local people. It is common policy of Taliban tactics to torture and kill villagers who have any dealings with foreigners.

NATO, as an idea is good. So far it has had a history of mismanagement.

This was great. Thank you.

Mark Orr
Toronto, Ontario

I was not surprised by what a mess the mission appears. Anyone there knows, to be associated with our side means they are the enemy of the Taliban, and sadly, it appears we abandoned those people to a terrible fate. I am ashamed and disheartened by this mission and horrified by how our soldiers essentially sentenced a village to death. Shame Canada!! SHAME!!

Gregory Wonderwheel
Santa Rosa, California

This was a fantastic story and completely demonstrates the total inability of the NATO and US forces to understand what they are doing there. This story convinces me that the war in Afghanistan is lost.
It was heartbreaking to see the way the villagers were set up to cooperate with the NATO forces and then were abandoned by them for the expected retaliation by the Taliban. What is even worse was the comment that it was the villages who "brought this on themselves" as if the NATO forces had nothing to do with it by forcing themselves on the village and had absolutely no responsibility.
This story shows clearly that the thinking and strategy behind the whole Afghanistan occupation is so moronic, childish, and unrealistic as to be laughable if it weren't for the fact that people are losing their lives over it. The notion that these villagers would "choose our side" because of a couple weeks of assistance completely ignores the thousands of years of history of invading armies passing through Afghanistan. These people are going to be on the side of whichever army is currently occupying their mud-brick village with its soldiers and their weapons. And why shouldn't they? The US and NATO's failure to understand even this basic fact of human nature and to build a whole strategy on "choosing a side" is mind numbing.

Gord Podolas
Winnipeg, Mb

What I find embarrassing is the reaction of people who know no strife. They do not go hungry, cold, or know real despair, they live in one of the richest countries of the world, and all they can do is hide and whine. Pitiful. For once in your lives stand up and be proud of what you country is doing to help a people far away and legions removed from your life.

I, for one, am proud of Canada and its soldiers who dare to venture forward to protect and fight for people, to allow them to acquire some of the rights we enjoy every day

Alex March
Edmonton, Alberta

I am afraid the Canadians are treating the Afghanistan people with a combination of traditional Department of Indian Affairs false promises and CISIS paranoia. Sad it will cost many lives unnecessarily.

Davin sleepycow
Montreal, Quebec

I don't have a tv/cable but I have highspeed internet and you guys said this documentary would be up on the 12th of April .....what happened?

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
We apologize for the delay in posting the video of this story. Due to licensing restrictions from the British co-producers, we are unable to post this video until 90 days after broadcast - July 9, 2007.

I just viewed the film, and I am incensed! I was there in Martello throughout the filming, and have several comments about what REALLY happened. Firstly we were lied to about the subject of the documentary. Hours of interview were given by many soldiers about the real challenges faced, and none of it was used. Also, though "Nicola" was shown as some hero in an austere military environment, we were under orders to follow all of her direction, and support here decisions, so guess what- the wild goose chases and poorly planned initiatives were her undertaking. More importantly, the film failed to mention any of the direct threats or violent actions that were occuring all around this area before, during , and after filming. Perhaps the fact that we had recently been rocketed by people who then disappeared into the surrounding villages could have been mentioned. How about the attacks on vehicles all throughout this area. Also, the fact that during previous attacks insurgents were allowed to travel through Elbak and then the local people seemed to have no idea about what happened. Making the unbelievably complex problems of conducting counter-insurgency operations over hundreds of square kilometers of mountains with few men into a 25 minute sound bite does a disservice to us all. Unfortunately PBS has now proven itself to be yet another media outlet that is interested in "infotainment" not real truth. Many of the edits and camera angles in the film do not show exactly what was happening during certain events, and no background is given for any decisions. Never again will I ever support any of your reporting on any subject to anyone. Obviously you cannot be trusted. Finally- I am not at all in the film, having argued that I didn't trust your reporting team I was allowed to skip anything that involved being directly filmed for your report. Unfortunately I wish I had been wrong. Thanks for making our jobs a little harder, and putting our lives a little bit more at risk.

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
FRONTLINE/World and Sam Kiley have received very positive feedback from other soldiers at Martello,
as well as excellent reviews in the Canadian and U.S. press.

This negative e-mail came anonymously, but we decided to run it along with a detailed response from Kiley, whose work we are very proud of.

Here is Kiley's reply...

No lies were told. The subject of the documentary
Was discussed at length with every level of NATO and a fragmentary order (official military instruction) issued which explained what we were doing. This was obviously backed up with what we said on the ground and what we filmed. Sadly we cannot use all the interviews we shot - the film would have been 70 hours long!

No one was setting out to make fools of anyone, and no one in the film I made and saw, came out looking
foolish. If the problems faced in trying to wins hearts and minds sometimes look strange, misguided, or hopeless that's because sometimes they are, and sometimes they're not. As for falling in with Sgt.
Bascon's plans, or anyone else's, that's the job of soldiers - to follow orders and make the best of it.

Also, the film did, of course, report the violence happening around the base, repeatedly mentioning the large number of Taliban believed to be moving through the area/surrounding the FOB, and the regular attacks on the main road.

I believe that we showed quite accurately the awful and awesome challenges that a small number of troops face when trying to fight an insurgency over a vast
Area, and also when they're asked not only to fight but to make friends with local people who may or may not pose a threat to them.

Finally, I'll have to take it on trust that you were indeed at Martello as I don't know who you are. But let me make one or two things absolutely clear: I happened to like and respect all of the soldiers I met at
Martello who were doing a difficult job under very trying circumstances, having fought long hard battles further south earlier in the year. We filmed what
occurred and ultimately we are comfortable that the film was a fair and accurate representation of what was going on. I fail to see how this film could make
anyone's life harder, much less put anyone at risk. I
showed that fighting a war isn't easy, doesn't always involve an instant victory, and can be very frustrating - points which were made by soldiers themselves in the film itself!

Please upload the video.

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
Because of a contractual arrangement, we are not allowed to post this video until July 9th, as stated on the site. Our apologies.

Pensacola, Florida
Unfortunately, this attempt at "winning the hearts and minds" is not the exception. The great majority of NATO forces have no training in this type of warfare and there is a dire need for more forces trained in counter-insurgency. Since the opium trade is the majority of the Afghan economy, the counter-narcotic (opium) war is in direct conflict with the War on Terror in Afghanistan.
Additionally, to the soldier, the very notion that forces "befriend" the "enemy" is tough to swallow. One concept that more soldiers don't get is that though the goal is the "win the hearts and minds of the people", the insurgents ARE FROM THE PEOPLE. To "help" a town and then find "enemy fighters" there should not be a surprise.
Counter-insurgencies are generational (20 year) fights.
The soldiers are doing the best they can, but they need more support ($, equipment). Afhanistan has been wartorn for several decades. Unless we want this country to again become a safe haven for radicals, we must support the country's rebuilding.
Frontline has again created an amazing piece of art! Please keep up the great work!

Bob Ramage
Calgary, Canada

Outstanding program. I have to say, that it looks like the counterinsurgency efforts are being poorly executed. Living in isolated forts with only occasional visits to villages effectively hands control to the Taliban. Not a recipe for success. Gen. Petraeus in Iraq seems to have the right idea, with the emphasis on clearing and holding population areas with a constant presence.

Petawawa, Ontario

I have not seen the program yet, but I was at FOB Martello while it was filmed, and regardless of what the viewers think, it was only one complicated piece of a gigantic and deadly puzzle in Kandahar province. I have served multiple tours in Afghanistan with the Canadian Infantry, and let me just say that FOB Martello was the Battle Group's vacation spot that year, the rest of the tour was a hell of a lot harder. Anything done on the ground out there by soldiers in the field was carefully considered and based on experience that few other soldiers in the world have- aside from our American and British allies. No one has any idea what it's really like until you've been there.

Montreal, Canada

Thank you for providing a compelling account of a reality whose specifics are never explored in conventional media. I was haunted by thoughts of what may have happened to the villagers who risked Taliban reprisals by showing good faith towards Canadian troops. Has any information surfaced about their situation?

Martin Cernek
Corinth, NY

Very inciteful regarding how the best of intentions from the ground troops get foiled by the political/military bureaucracy. Do we know what happened to the villagers after the Canadians left? Now, that would be newsworthy.

D cheng
Ottawa, Canada

Great efforts by the Canadians but producing no results. Something wrong with the whole strategy and the half-hearted approach by NATO to the problem. I'm not optimistic in the outcome.

kirsti reynolds
rocky mount, MO.

I think that the tactic may work. I think we need to get the troops out of there.



Ronald Bastiani
Milwaukie, Oregon

Very interesting report on the frustrations of the Canadian troops in dealing with everyday life in rural Afghanistan. Winning the hearts and minds of the locals is not always easy.In the end the Canadians leave the local tribes to the mercy of the Taliban.
Maybe the reality of fighting another war (Iraq) has weakened our cause in Afghanistan.

Stephen Perry
Phoenix, AZ

I really appreciate the first person coverage of the segment. It has provided a lot of insight into the current environment of the effort to bring peace to that nation. Sadly, I feel frustrated by the resulting story. I so desperately want to be optimistic about Afghanistan, but I cannot seem to muster the confidence in the military (NATO or US) to establish peace at the muzzle of a gun. It is risky by its nature. To be overly cautious, to try to completely eliminate risk, is to guarantee failure. A little common sense would go a long way, as well. To deny entry of the supply trucks due to risk, but then send out a patrol into an even riskier mission is simply foolish. Then, to call a medivac helicopter to pick up someone you have wounded by shooting at every vehicle that comes near you, when you should have just had the helicopter drop off the supplies in the first place just proves that foolishness is rampant. I am an Army veteran from the 1980's. I know how the military is slow to learn, slow to adapt. If security is the main reason that they cannot effectively relate to the locals, then they should have more resources. If there are not enough resources, then we should blame the people responsible for the limitation: The Bush administration.

Boston, MA
Great program! This is the first time I have seen how things are happening at a village level in Afghanistan. I could relate to well-meaning efforts of Canadian troops, but their methods fall short.

It is quite shocking that modern Western military can't pull-off repairing a few water pumps! Also, I could see how locals can turn against troops, when troops fire warning shots very close to oncoming trucks & motorcycles. In this part of the world, stop never means a full stop, it's always slowly go around. It's understandable that troops are concerned about suicide attackers. The only way around is for troops to actually recognize ordinary people. As long as Western troops can't tell one Afghani from another, they won't be able to win peace.

Winnipeg, Canada
An excellent story. Unfortunately the story left me embarrassed, disappointed and horrified at the Canadians. I watched in disbelief as I witnessed the incompetence and series of poor decisions being made by Canadians in that particular base camp. I can only hope that it was the exception rather than the rule.


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