It’s been almost two years since the Biden Administration announced it would remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and a new documentary screening at a Syracuse University veterans center captures the chaos and sacrifice of that months-long process.
WAER’s John Smith spoke with Baktash Ahadi, the executive producer of the documentary, Retrograde, which is also available on Disney+, about the withdrawal’s lasting impact on Afghans and U.S. veterans living in our communities.
Q: What does this movie do to capture what the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan was really like to give us some different understanding?
A: Well, this film is really about being in the presence of the US Green Berets, and the Afghan military and Helmand Province, as things were drawn to a close in terms of the United States involvement in Afghanistan, and really the onslaught of the Taliban, slowly but surely, making progress and taking over the country, province by province to eventually get into Kabul, where they overtook the city, and our cinematographers, Matt Heineman, the director, were there.
Q: Is the relationship between the US military and Afghanistan special trade forces captured as well?
A: It shows the trust, the resilience, and actually the disappointment when President Biden announced the withdrawal. You’ll see in the film that so many Green Berets just could not believe that this is how things were going to end in Afghanistan, because people, I mean, let’s just say it, the United States military veterans of this country gave so much for that war. And they gave so much that war in the country. But then also, you know, there are so many veterans here in the United States that have served in Afghanistan for the last 20 years. And a question that I always ask people, John is, what was all this for? And how will we cope? And how will veterans who lost so much cope with this tragic end to this war? And I think it’s something that I’m realizing that a lot of people are still having a hard time dealing with so the audience that your audience knows what PTSD is, but I’d like to kind of just put in, put a pin into something else, there’s something known as moral injury, the idea that we have just been so harmed as a matter of our moral compass, that we’re actually having a hard time recalibrating.
Q: How about the humanitarian side of things? So the Afghan people tried to flee and are being blocked across over to the airports and their dreams to be taken away and those enormous us cargo planes.
A: It captures people trying to get onto planes, getting on planes, being accompanied from Kabul to military bases in the Middle East, and eventually making the United States. And it also captures the people left behind. So many. And I think what we have to kind of figure out as Americans is what will we do in this moment now knowing after watching retrograde, which I hope really paints a picture in terms of how much people gave and how much hope was lost in an instant. In an instant. That’s the piece that I was referring to earlier is this idea of moral injury. And, you know, there are so many refugees here now, you know, there’s 80,000 here, there are still thousands left in the Middle East being processed, John, and there are still so many Afghans that have the right to be here in the United States because they have served the United States military in some form or fashion and they were offered Special Immigrant Visas that haven’t been processed by the United States State Department. And they’re held in limbo, and they’re still in the country. And right now, for people listening, it’s important to know that, you know, the humanitarian crisis that’s happening in Afghanistan is severe. People are dying of freezing cold weather conditions. Food is not being distributed. I mean, the Taliban, although they’re technically in control of the country, they don’t know how to govern. And so they’re in a place right now where Afghanistan is really uncertain.