This Film Shows What Afghan Warfare Looks Like Without Americans
'Tell Spring Not to Come This Year' takes a hard look inside the Afghan National Army
Capt. Jalaluddin, a hardened Afghan National Army commander, boxes with a fellow soldier in a sparse room inside their Helmand base. We hear his narration as he explains how he ended up here. After American forces ousted the Taliban, he’d hope to study literature at Kabul University.
But his grades were just short of the competitive entry requirements. The Afghan Military Academy, however, was more than happy to take him. Since then, he’s spent nearly a decade with the army fighting the Taliban alongside NATO troops.
Now with most of those troops gone or concentrated in major bases, Jalaluddin is wrestling with the responsibilities of leading his men alone and with much reduced air and logistical support. He’s nervous, unsure if he can get his men through the spring fighting season alive.
But he knows that he has to try.
This is Tell Spring Not to Come This Year, a documentary released in early 2015 on the festival circuit and now available on Netflix and streaming services. Filmmakers Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy embedded with the Afghan National Army as they took responsibility for Sangin with hardly a western soldier in sight.
There are many documentaries about the war in Afghanistan, some great and some not as much. But few have truly been about the Afghans themselves as this one. It follows an Afghan heavy weapons company and alternates between the perspective of Jalaluddin and Sunnatullah, one of his young soldiers.
Farouky and McEvoy paint an intimate portrait of these two men and their comrades, from the mundane griping of barracks life to terrifying and tense gunfights with the Taliban. The documentary is timely — the fall and recapture of Kunduz was a sobering look at what things may look like as Afghan troops take more and more responsibility for the country’s security.
Spring follows a relatively competent unit. Though rough around the edges, they know how to fight. The soldiers of the unit experience fear, but they refuse to back down if it means letting down their fellow soldiers.
They’re not cowards. But they suffer from the effects of poor supply lines, political corruption and often unreliable leaders. NATO advisers helped teach the ANA how to fight, but put less emphasis on teaching them how to actually maintain an army.
During a briefing, one of Jalaluddin’s soldiers bluntly asks when they’ll receive their salaries — none of them have been paid in months.
Not all Afghan troops have the resolve of Jalaluddin’s men. While the soldiers fight from a village compound, they learn that a unit that was supporting them has mysteriously vanished — leaving them exposed. They distrust Afghan police officers, who frequently supply bad intelligence.
At one point, the soldiers question a group of police officers at a compound from where Afghan troops said somebody shot at them. The cops deny knowing anything about it. Jalaluddin tells the cops that if the shooting doesn’t stop, the soldiers won’t ask questions next time. Instead … they’ll kill them.
Jalaluddin and Sunnatullah are incredibly frank with the film crew. Their experiences offer a window into Afghanistan that few — if any — journalists have managed offer. This is a film about their war.
Jalaluddin, though cynical about Afghanistan’s political leadership and corruption, is patriotic and takes pride in being a soldier. He’s mostly positive about the NATO troops he served with, but feels that western governments have abandoned his country.
As he and fellow soldiers go through a base the Americans formerly occupied, he angrily points out that they left behind no generators or equipment. It’s unlikely the government in Kabul will provide them with anything of substance to replace it.
“This is useless to us,” Jalaluddin grumbles.
Sunnatullah is even more cynical — he mostly joined because he couldn’t find a job anywhere else. He hates army life. Nevertheless, Sunnatullah admits that he respects Jalaluddin, and is willing to die for his fellow soldiers.
During one harrowing sequence, the soldiers fight from a compound as one their comrades suffers from a horrifying head wound. At several points, he seems to be dead only for the camera to zoom in on his torso to show that he’s still breathing.
There will be no NATO helicopter to rescue him.
Instead, the soldiers run under fire with their wounded comrade to a Humvee. They huddle inside, firing from the vehicle as they speed away. As their adrenaline wears off, several shake and huddle close together. These men could be soldiers from any army during any war.
Afghanistan has been at war since 1978, and will likely still be for years to come — whether there are any Americans there to witness it or not. Tell Spring Not To Come This Year is one of the most important documentaries about Afghanistan to date, and most definitely one the most important films of the year.