Belfast Telegraph

A heart-rending film to show once more why the war's been lost

By Robert Fisk

As a schoolboy, I would travel to the Edinburgh Festival with my pal Julian Holt to watch movies. There were three reasons for this. As a trainspotter, I wanted to take photographs of steam locos at Waverley station.

I was fascinated by cinema film - I had ambitions then to be a film critic as well as a foreign correspondent - and I could escape from my over-protective parents. These were the days of Polanski's Knife in the Water and the French New Wave. Master Fisk, who stayed in a bleak lodging house in the crumby port of Leith - all drunks and old ships - could even be glimpsed occasionally in Crawford's tea house off Princes Street, ostentatiously reading Cahiers du Cinéma.

So this week, there I was back in Edinburgh, steam trains long gone, the Novotel instead of the digs in Leith, but square-eyed again for the world of movies. I loved the film on Afghan football, Out of the Ashes - which my mate Andrew Buncombe had already snatched for The Independent from his perch in Delhi - but was fascinated by Restrepo, a long documentary for which two brave journalists, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, spent 13 months with the US Second Platoon of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Korangal Valley, perhaps the deadliest piece of real estate in Afghanistan.

The platoon set up a post called OP Restrepo - named after a much-loved but very dead comrade - and endured a miniature version of Khe San amid the towering snow-fastness of Talibanland. During the movie, another soldier dies - he is shot on patrol and you briefly see his corpse - as bullets zip around the camera. After calling up an air strike on a village "terrorist" target, the platoon moves into the hamlet in which it finds horribly wounded children and civilian corpses.

All this was given added piquancy when General Stanley McChrystal fell on his own sword in front of Barack Obama this week. I don't like generals, but I had a smidgen of sympathy for this arrogant man. McChrystal's contempt for the inept Richard Holbrooke - the "Afpak" envoy who hourly awaits his own dismissal - at least bears the merit of truth.

What was more instructive, however, was Obama's behaviour. Every month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heaps humiliation and insult upon the impotent and frightened Obama, who responds by clucking his tongue and then swearing further lifelong fidelity to Israel.

But the moment his top man in Afghanistan tells him a few home truths, the President throws a hissy fit, then fires him. McChrystal would obviously have done much better in the Israeli army.

Ironically, one of McChrystal's last acts was to pull his men out of the Korangal Valley and close down OP Restrepo. Indeed, al-Jazeera's reporter managed to enter the abandoned outpost a few days ago with a bunch of leering Taliban - who joyfully discovered that the Americans had left them plenty of spare ammo. So much for the sacrifice of the Second Platoon and the far greater suffering of the Afghan villagers whom they blasted away in the interests of the "war on terror".

Yet Restrepo the film was impressive. Not just because of the fear of the soldiers - and the spectacular real-life battle scenes - but because of the graphic, terrible moments in the bombed village. One little, pain-filled girl stares with such incomprehension at her tormentors that you know that we have lost the war in Afghanistan.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph