Mission accomplished. NATO troops have pacified the country, trained up the local army to continue their good work, and left victoriously. The British even packed up their memorial to fallen soldiers. If you listen to western politicians, that’s the situation in Afghanistan. The reality on the ground is something entirely different as Michael McEvoy and Saeed Taji Farouky’s documentary demonstrates. Spending a year with a Corps in the Afghan army, it quickly becomes apparent the war is anything but over and the much maligned national army is caught on the front line.
In a previous life, McEvoy used to act as an adviser and interpreter in the region for the British army. Unhappy that the portrayal on the news back home in no way matched his own experiences, he teamed with filmmaker Farouky to show another side of the story. Embedded within 3rd Brigade 215 Corps, the film introduces us to two soldiers in particular; one a poor young man who signed up partly to fight for his country and partly out of desperation; the other a jaded Captain who keeps sticking it out because he feels he can’t leave and let the men down.
Early scenes are subdued. The soldiers discuss their conflicted views on America, a country they first welcomed and then began to distrust. They’re given mundane tasks, left to clean a succession of carpets. When the religious officer comes, they all mutter under their breath and stop conversation for fear of trouble.
The NATO withdrawal comes fast. The soldiers wander around a deserted base, stripped bare of even electrical cables. Some comment on the damage they did, others praise them for coming to help. Most sit in the middle.
Left to mind the shop alone, the second half grows into an increasingly perilous confrontation with the Taliban. Early exchanges of fire are confused. On the front line with the troops, the camera captures an operation that sees the army pinned down in a compound, Taliban fighters closing in from every side. Men are wounded, some killed. They barely escape with their lives. It’s raw and terrifying footage. Some of these men aren’t even being paid to risk their lives. One solider complains that he hasn’t received his salary for nine months. Yet they keep fighting.
The context sometimes feels too remote, as if these soldiers could be fighting anywhere. Their conversations only touch on the state of the country in a cursory fashion. There’s a brief scene at a funeral later on that hints at what could have been. However, part of the point is to show these men are just like any other army. They’re not a bunch of venal cowards still stuck in conflict through their own fault, as much as the western media might suggest otherwise. They’re scared, brave, patriotic young men fighting a war everyone else wants to pretend no longer exists. Tell Spring Not to Come This Year makes that abundantly clear.
Directors: Saeed Taji Farouky, Michael McEvoy
Runtime: 94 min
Country: UK, Afghanistan