Documentary Review: ‘Escape From Kabul’

Greetings again from the darkness. We watched it play out on television, seemingly getting worse and more tragic and more convoluted by the day. It was painful to watch the United States evacuation of Afghanistan, and now, Jamie Roberts documents what actually happened with previously unseen archival footage supplemented with remarkably candid personal interviews.
The war was in its 18th year when, in 2020, President Trump announced we would be ending the war and bringing our folks home. It was President Biden who gave the final deadline for evacuation by August 2021. Of course, most of us doubted it could happen that swiftly, and given what unfolded, maybe it shouldn’t have.

Previously unseen footage is remarkable, and certainly provides a true sense of what was happening at the time and how our undermanned military faced numerous obstacles – some dangerous, others humanitarian – and performed admirably given the circumstance. The insight from the Marines who were there is especially impactful, and their recollections cut to the quick. Their mission was to evacuate US citizens and “at risk” Afghans who had been helpful to the cause, but we learn the first couple of days were spent evacuating “VIPs” … always a sign of political motivation.

It was literally day 2 (August 15) when the Taliban seized control of Kabul, causing desperation and fear and chaos. The footage is vivid in showing what was happening, and how confusion permeated every action. It’s stunning to watch as Taliban leaders are interviewed and laugh at the US for such a botched plan after a two-decade war. Interviews with some Afghan citizens who made it out display the emotions of those driven from the homes under extreme stress. And those Marines offer the most direct feedback for the operation and the no-win decisions they faced when deciding who could leave.

We have all seen the newscast images of those desperately clinging the airplanes, but what about the canal of sewage many spent days wading in, hoping for a chance to leave? The “deal” struck with the Taliban to allow evacuations is a bit confusing to us, but even more so to the Marines stationed at the time. Despite 124,000 people being evacuated and most of the military equipment destroyed prior to the last plane filled with Marines, it’s still sickening to see the Taliban immediately shift into victory celebration mode. We know where this is headed, and so do those who remained.

An HBO documentary premiering on September 21, 2022

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