Footage From The War In Afghanistan & Interview With Journalist Ben Anderson

Uploaded by vice on Jul 10, 2012


BEN ANDERSON: This is Pharmacy Road, which some people say is
the most lethal road in the world.
It's also here that their British had their biggest
single loss of life when five soldiers from two rifles were
killed in one IED blast.

AMERICAN SOLDIER: With IEDs, it's all luck.
I've been really I haven't stepped on one, and a couple
of people have just stepped in the wrong spot
at the wrong time.
MALE SPEAKER: Are we good?

AMERICAN SOLDIER: Is anybody hit?
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Is anyone hit?

AMERICAN SOLDIER: Can you stand up?
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Can you stand up?

AMERICAN SOLDIER: Hold on to me.
Let's go.

MICHAEL HASTINGS: Well, first off, I just want to thank
Powerhouse for having us here.
This is one of my favorite spots in all of the greater
Tri-State Area.
They have a bunch of great events.
And it's really an honor to be here.
So Ben is someone whose work I've respected and admired for
its bravery, its courage, and also his willingness to get
shot at in many places around the globe.
So Ben's book, "No Worse Enemy." you're
a documentary filmmaker.
Why did you decide to write the book?
BEN ANDERSON: Originally I had no intention to write a book.
It was just one documentary at a time, mostly for the BBC,
then HBO, then BBC again.
But about 18 months ago, the statements were coming out of
Kabul, London, and Washington about how progress was being
made, our goals were being met, the Afghans were almost
ready to take over so we could leave with
our heads held high.
And I feel that's the exact opposite of what I'd been
seeing for the last five years.
I never believed it when an author said, I
had to write a book.
But suddenly, I thought, I have to write this book.
I have to get everything I've seen and filmed down on paper
in one place.
And apart from literally a handful of quotes in here from
my notebooks, it's all from my own footage.
So it's not my opinion.
I'm not exaggerating.
it's a really simple portrait of what the war actually looks
like, because that's so different to the war that
we're being told is going on now.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Now the strategy that we have is the
reason we could pull out, in theory, because there's the
Afghan national security forces, the
police, and the army.
You have a clip, I think, that demonstrates the equality of--
I feel like it's easy to bash the Afghans, and especially in
the US, we often do that.
You'll read the "New York Times well, everything would
be going well in the Afghanistan War if the Afghans
weren't such fuck-ups.
At the same time, you have this great clip.
Why don't you introduce the clip, and we'll start with
that to give us a flavor of the real war that
you don't often see.
This clip is from my first trip to Afghanistan in 2007,
and it's not an exceptional clip at all.
We'd been under attack for about six hours.
A Hellfire missile had struck a building-- the wrong
building by mistake, where British and
Afghan soldiers were.
We thought they'd been killed.
So we ran across a field under Taliban fire into this
building to check on these guys.
Found out they were all OK, miraculously.
The British responded by saying, this is the most
intense day of fighting they'd ever had.
The Afghans responded by skinning up a huge joint.
And you'll see what happens next.
BRITISH SOLDIER: I don't understand how they could
smoke it in the middle of a battle.
It'd make you worse.
But they love it.
As soon as they get two minutes, then they'll start
smoking and passing it around.
All laughing and joking.
And then a minute later, they're
running out towards bullets.
BEN ANDERSON: But I thought it might make them more cautious.
It would make me more cautious.
BEN ANDERSON: But apparently it has the opposite effect.
They love it.
BEN ANDERSON: So the Afghan--
they got stoned for about an hour.
They were completely out of control.
One of them had eyes pointing different directions.
And he actually ran out and he was so stoned that he was just
aiming at something in the sky.
And I don't know if you saw it, but a bullet came and shot
the top cover off his rifle, which was pretty funny, when
you look at that footage.
But afterwards, we thought, actually, a few inches up and
we'd have seen a guy getting his head blown off
right next to us.
And it is difficult to bash the Afghan National Army.
The Afghan National Police, I'm actually happy to bash.
They're hate and feared by the local population.
I spoke to one of the Northern Irish guys training the Afghan
National Police, and he said 90% of the crime in Helmand is
committed by the police.
And bear in mind that the counterinsurgency policy is,
we're trying to persuade the Afghans to choose us and the
Afghan security forces over the Taliban.
It's no surprise that lots of people in the south are going
to choose the Taliban, and see the Taliban as the good guys.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: One of the incredible moments in your
book, when you're sort of explaining your reporting
techniques, you said you went through and had what the
Afghans said translated versus what people thought they said
at the time, and there were big discrepancies.
Can you talk about this sort of lost in translation aspect
of the conflict?
BEN ANDERSON: First of I was always shocked by how few
American and British forces learned Pashto or Dari.
And most of that is because they do six-month tours.
And you can't learn about a local culture and establish
relations in six months.
But for some reason, the interpreters they employ would
often mistranslate things.
So there was a meeting with a mullah in Sangin where he came
out of his mosque.
And he lived about 100 meters away from a US base.
So if anyone's benefiting from our presence there,
it should be him.
And he came out, and he said,
yesterday you shot my daughter.
A stray bullet hit her in the shoulder.
And you wouldn't let us through the checkpoint.
We had to take her to hospital.
It took seven hours.
How do you expect us to embrace you when this is how
you treat us?
The translation was, we're very glad you're here,
security's improved, and my kids can play outside.
And I had no idea of this until I got back to London and
sat down with a really good translator and went through
all of my tapes, one by one.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: That's incredible.
Now, you mentioned just briefly the old man who
brought his daughter who'd been shot.
Can you talk a little bit about the solatia payments, or
the payments we actually make to Afghan civilians, the
families of Afghan civilians who die?
BEN ANDERSON: Every time there are civilian casualties,
there's a condolence payment meeting the next day.
And the British actually pay less than the Americans, but
the Americans pay $2,500 per life lost.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: There's nothing we can do to bring
back your loss.
What we can do is try to help you out by giving you the very
least that we can with a payment for your losses.

AMERICAN SOLDIER: And again, I'm, I'm deeply, deeply sorry.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Gentlemen, this is for you.
For your losses.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: What do you think's going through that
guy's mind, when he's hearing this from foreigners?
And what do you think he did afterwards?
You think he joined the Taliban or just
went on with his life?
BEN ANDERSON: I spent a lot of time in Marja after the that
incident, and surprisingly, he forgave the Marines.
I think he realized it was a mistake, and he had a very
good relationship with the Marines.
And the thing he was most angry about at that meeting,
initially, was that McChrystal and everybody had made a big--
Marja was announced months in advance, so the Taliban had
months to prepare.
They built incredible networks of bunkers and trenches and
set booby traps everywhere.
But they said to the civilians, we're not going to
use any rockets that can pierce the thick walls of your
house, so stay indoors.
Don't flee.
We're here to protect you.
And he said, I did what you told me to do.
I waited inside my house for four days.
All you had to do was shout, and I would have walked
towards you.
And then there was nothing but you and the Taliban.
And that's what he was most mad about, was he'd done
exactly what he was told to do, and he still lost four
family members as a result.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: The IED, the Improvised Explosive Device,
it's what terrorizes both, I think, NATO troops and also
local civilians.
Can you set up this next clip for us?
Feel free to talk about your own experience, obviously,
with the improvised explosive device.
BEN ANDERSON: The last clip is from Sangin, which is probably
the town in the whole of Afghanistan, outside of Kabul,
which has had more manpower and resources devoted to it
for longer than anywhere else.
And this was my last trip to Afghanistan
with Three Five Marines.
And the IED threat was so bad that it took four hours to
walk two kilometers on a patrol.
You had to walk in single file, and you literally had to
walk in the bootprints of the minesweeper in front of you.

The man at the end of the command wire has let us walk
over the daisy chain.
He knows there are more Marines coming behind.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Hey, we're going to have to get
on the other one.

AMERICAN SOLDIER: Is anybody hit?
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Is anyone hit?

BEN ANDERSON: Five of the seven bombs went off.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: See where it's at?
It was right there.
BEN ANDERSON: Just seconds after we had walked over them.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Can you stand up?
AMERICAN SOLDIER: Can you stand up?
MALE SPEAKER: He can't hear you.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Again, incredible footage.
This is the first time I've watched an IED go off in a
while because I can't even watch this shit.
What keeps bringing you back there?
Are they noble reasons?
Are they selfish reasons?
Are they adrenaline reasons?

BEN ANDERSON: It's certainly not adrenaline.
I mean, people who say that that is a thrill I don't think
have really experienced it or been close to real ambushes or

It's hard, because once you've covered this stuff for a
while, other stories--
I mean, I try and cover the Republican nomination, I try
and follow British politics, and it just feels boring.
This, to me, feels like one of the most important
stories in the world.
And now, when you ask me a question
like that, it's scary.
But when you're out there, you compare yourself to everyone
around you.
And the people around me have to kill people.
They maybe have to save their friends lives.
I don't have to do either of those things.
And the civilians around me, the ones who are too poor to
leave, they're really suffering.
I mean, compared to all of those people,
I'm kind of a VIP.
I've got a cushy job, compared to them.
So that makes me think I can keep on going
back and doing more.
And I really want to know what happens out there.
I'm not at all optimistic about the future, but I really
want to know how it turns out.
And sadly, there aren't that many people
covering this anymore.
MICHAEL HASTINGS: Can you describe the process of you
with the camera?
BEN ANDERSON: Everything I'd need, I carry on my back.
And that means that I can join an infantry group like these
guys and stay with them for five or six weeks.
And if I sleep where they sleep and run the same risks
they run and eat what they eat, they open up to me.
And the goal is to film exactly what the war really
looks like.
And I'm sure it's impossible with me being there.
I'm sure they temper their behavior slightly because I'm
there, but I think I've got quite close to seeing how they
would have behaved if I wasn't there.

Well, I want to again thank Powerhouse for having us in,
and also you all for coming out and for
being engaged in this--

obviously, we spend $120 billion on it a year.
I think over a thousand Americans have died there
since President Obama's been elected, not to mention the
thousands of Afghan civilians.
So on that cheerful note, I want to recommend Ben's book
very highly.
As a fellow author who does these things, if you come,
please buy the book.
Come on.
Just shell out for the fucking thing.
We're here, he'll sign it for you.
It'll be good.
I'll buy your book when it comes out too.
Just email me.
And just thanks again.
This has been a really, I think, hopefully a thoughtful,
fruitful discussion.
And Ben's one of the best journalists, documentary
filmmakers, who's out there working today.
So I'd like to give Ben a round of applause
and call it a night.
AMERICAN SOLDIER: This is life in Afghanistan, see.