Review: The General's War
The documentary nominally focuses on British Army's General David Richards, commander of ISAF and NATO troops in Afghanistan, in the last days of his command as he is about to be relieved by US General Dan McNeil. But it is not the general's story that is the real interest here, but the unlucky ISAF Canadians at the Martello base and their earnest commanding officer, a woman, whose mission is defeated...not by the Taliban, but by the Coalition.
The Canadians, charged with winning the hearts and minds of the locals, decide to repair the water pumps of a neighboring village. The water pumped would be for drinking, of course, but also for religious ablutions. The Canadians collect them all with a promise of a week's repair time but fail utterly, losing the wisp of confidence earned, because ISAF cannot find the gaskets, spark plugs and 4-kopek pieces to return them to operation. Adding to their embarrassment is the arrival of US Special Forces in armored vehicles flying the Jolly Roger. (No, I am not being rhetorical). The Special Forces proceed to kidnap a local from his home (one wonders how names could possibly be taken from this godforsaken village amid rock and scrub!) and bundle him, hooded, into an interrogation tent.
The hangdog Canadians return to the village, were they have to admit that they are not only unable to have the the pumps repaired but powerless to intervene with the US Special Forces. At this moment, a 9 year-old boy appears and from atop a pile of rubble delivers an angry and ominous exhortation: Rise up, o ye men of faith...
The Martello base is quickly shut down, and a parting shot shows the female officer, defeated and bereft of her command, sitting along the wwith her head in her hands.
As General Richard comments before the camera on his departure, he clearly is worried by his American relief. The Americans, he says, are too "kinetic", and by this he clearly means they shoot first and ask questions later. As we saw today...
It is doubtful that the BBC set out to capture the debacle of the Canadians in a film project that was meant be to a farewell tribute to the British commander. But the poignant subplot was poignant brings to the public a rare glimpse of the intractable mess on the ground in Afghanistan.