Under Review: ‘Afghanistan: The Trap’


Does this film need to be shown at the start of the next U.S. Congressional session? The next presidential breakfast?

“Afghanistan: The Trap” is not a great documentary from the standpoint of cinematic quality or script. But you will widen your eyes and mutter, “Holy cow” at least a couple of times in response to the raw battlefield footage.

Re-released this year during Obama’s spring ponder over his decision about staying in Afghanistan or not, “Afghanistan: The Trap” is a descriptive title on three levels.

First, the most obvious trap is the one in the film that the Afghan Mujahedeen set for the Soviets as their convoy drove through canyons en route to Kabul. American war correspondent, Jeff Harmon and British cameraman, Alexander Lindsay, ride in a tank with the Soviets. An English song is playing on the tank radio, “I’m too Young to Die.”

Then someone yells for all the riders to take cover in the tank and gunfire is heard. Chaos. We are thinking that Harmon and Lindsay, the production crew, are sure taking risks – at least we are assuming that the two are together here. But as the film shifts to the Afghan rebels shooting at the convoy we wonder, shocked, is one member embedded with the Soviets and the other with the Mujahedeen?

Unlike “Taliban Behind the Masks” where you were aware of the cameraman and sometimes saw him, you have no idea what’s going on here. Harmon and Lindsay tried very hard to take no sides. They show the Soviets and then they show the Mujahedeen, the future Taliban, in alternate sequences.

A second way to look at “The Trap” is with the acknowledgment that the Soviet Union is trapped in an unwinnable war against an untrained force that has few supplies, no medical access, little financial support and no shoes. As the Soviets know, all the Afghan people support the Mujahedeen who have called for a Jihad against the infidel invaders.

At one point a Soviet soldier says, “Personally I don’t understand … any war – why thousands, millions of people should be lost. For the sake of what? This is their country. They have many parties. They can sort their own lives. They can choose their own government. Our presence here can be considered a mistake.”

The third way to look at the title is to recognize its reflection on America’s current predicament, a repeat of what the Russians experienced. Once in, the invading government finds it hard to get out.

Produced in 1989 using 16-millimeter film, Harmon and Lindsay redid this film for re-release this year and posted it on YouTube for all to see for $1.99.

In a statement Harmon writes, “The involvement of the Soviet army in Afghanistan poses serious questions about current American action. The Afghans have been a notoriously difficult people to subdue, as the Russians discovered to their cost. Will sending ground troops into the country in the name of an anti-terrorist “crusade” ignite another ten year war between the Afghan people and their foreign invaders? Can the Soviet experience teach us anything about this rugged, war-torn country?”

For the record, after 10 years of unsuccessful battle 13,000 Soviet soldiers lost their lives and one million Afghans were killed.

It looks like this film might be made from footage Harmon and Lindsay shot in the ‘80s that was then termed the Afghan Trilogy. At that time, they made three award-winning docs on the Afghan War, first embedded with the Mujahedeen, then the Soviets and then a bio on the son of a warlord. Perhaps that’s how they show what we assume is one attack from the side of the Soviets, and another from the perspective of the Mujahedeen — they combined footage from two or three of their prior films to create this most interesting perspective.

The bottom line is that this document is instructive, pithy, not boring and an important piece of journalism that the American public and decision-makers should view.

Production Credits

Produced and Directed by Jeff B. Harmon
Photography by Alexander Lindsay
Adapted by Keely Stucke
Released: May 2010

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Jo`an Sterr #

    I really appreciate the theme of Afghanistan in the reviews of the past weeks! We need to pay so much more attention to the problems involved with this war. This movie is new to me and I cannot wait to see it.

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