Withdrawing from Afghanistan: Three Movies on the Soviet Occupation

Mujahideen in Asmar, Afghanistan
Image via Wikipedia

Imperial Brains Blown Out

When you’re wounded an’ left on Afghanistan’s plains
An’ the women come out to cut up your remains
Jus’ roll to your rifle an’ blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.–
Rudyard Kipling

Last night Senator John McCain tweeted, “I believe the President’s artificial date for withdrawal from Afghanistan will doom us to failure–our withdrawal must be conditions based only.” We can be certain that withdrawal will indeed be “conditions based,” and one of the conditions will be the defeat and humiliation of another demented superpower in decline, whose hands have long been bloodied in Afghanistan. What McCain doesn’t need to add is that he is quite content with the pace of current American and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is averaging about three troops per day, exiting in caskets. Troops walking out of Afghanistan alive? Now that is what McCain objects to.

Yet, General Petraeus, in his recent propaganda campaign, went out on a very thin limb and claimed that the U.S./NATO was making “slow progress” in Afghanistan. What he does not add is that the Taleban are making very fast progress, having more money, more weapons, more fighters, and killing more Western troops than ever before…and this during the U.S. “surge.”

In honour of contemporary neo-Soviet political dinosaurs such as Senator McCain, and his fellow oligarchs in the military, we present three full length movies below about the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan from 27 December 1979 to 15 February 1989. These are the three most prominent, and we have the benefit of watching the complete movies (if you have not seen them already). For some original Soviet documents on the Afghan war, see the National Security Archive’s “The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan.” For a detailed media time line tracking U.S. covert involvement in Afghanistan, starting years before the arrival of Soviet troops, click here, and you will see details on CIA support for leaders whose names are those currently associated with the “Taleban insurgency.”

The Beast (1988, USA)

Directed by Kevin Reynolds, and written by William Mastrosimone, The Beast is in English and Pashto, and tells the story of Soviet failure through the experience of a tank crew in Afghanistan, that loses itself, and is hunted by mujahidin. The tank commander, Daskal, is brilliantly played by George Dzundza, a despotic commander who fought as a child in the battle of Stalingrad (nicknamed “tank boy”). We witness various Soviet atrocities, and follow two different sets of protagonists: the Russians in their tank, and the band of mujahidin, who are shown in a sympathetic light and whose thirst for justice we are made to share.

The full series of segments that make up the film should advance automatically. Should the movie stop at the end of the first segment, you can watch the complete playlist here.

Afghan Breakdown/Afganskiy Izlom (1990, Italy, Russia)

This version of the film is in Italian and subtitled in Japanese. Of the three films, this is my favourite. The movie was directed by Vladimir Bortko, and written by Leonid Bogachuk, Aleksandr Chervinsky, Mikhail Leshchinsky, and Ada Petrova. Michele Placido, an Italian television star, played the main protagonist, Major Bandura, a commander of a unit of Soviet paratroopers. The movie was based on research done in Kabul and Kandahar in 1988, by the movie director. The movie is set in the very late part of the Soviet occupation, and ends with withdrawal by air. Bandura and his fellow Soviets enjoy, as they describe, a lifestyle of comfort, privilege and luxury that they could never dream of back home. Indeed, as they begin to pack up, several of the key characters grow increasingly melancholic, dreading the return to their tiny apartments in Moscow. They make use of local markets in Afghanistan to buy various Western consumer items. The film ends with Bandura’s unit attacking a village, and being exterminated in return. You can read the complete story, and still possibly be able to follow the film even if you know neither Italian nor Japanese.

The full series of segments that make up the film should advance automatically. Should the movie stop at the end of the first segment, you can watch the complete playlist here.

The 9th Company/9 Рота (2005, Russia, Finland, Ukraine)

A 2005 Russian box office hit, this movie is in Russian and subtitled in English. The movie is based on the history of the actual 9th Company, and we follow recruits from Russia to a training camp in Uzbekistan, to Bagram air base and then onto Khost where they are required to defend a mountain (Hill 3234) overlooking supply routes (sound familiar?). The movie was directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk and written by Yuriy Korotkov. This movie is also set in 1988. Different reviews tell us that Soviet war veterans found several inaccuracies in this film, and tended to prefer Afghan Breakdown above.

The full series of segments that make up the film should advance automatically. Should the movie stop at the end of the first segment, you can watch the complete playlist here.

If you see, or have seen, all three films, please let us know what you thought and which of the three you liked most.

4 thoughts on “Withdrawing from Afghanistan: Three Movies on the Soviet Occupation

  1. The language used in the subtitles for “Afghan Breakdown” is Japanese.
    You can tell by the relatively less complex characters, known as Katakana, which Japanese use to translate foreign words into their language.
    Otherwise, good selection: I’ve seen “The Beast” and “Company 9.” “Company 9” is on Youtube.
    Thanks.

  2. Probably on a torrent site, which I tend to avoid since sometimes one is just downloading massive viruses and trojans. The less risky, more tedious way is to download RealPlayer, then open up each individual video segment, and download it your hard drive…then convert each one to, say, a WMV file and stitch them all together using Windows Movie Maker (normally installed with Windows)…and then you have your complete movie. The whole process can take an hour or so. RealPlayer will also convert the video to other formats, besides the one in which the movie is downloaded (usually it’s FLV).

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