Forward Operating Base Armadillo. The Documentary. The Review.

by Daniel Russ on January 5, 2012

Afghan War Afghanistan



This is a documentary made in 2009 in Denmark and debuted at Cannes in 2010. It follows a modern Danish military regiment serving a six months tour in Afghanistan. It is very well made. It is filled with surprises. Not everyone makes it back, or makes it back in one piece. The demographic make-up of the soldiers, many of who are just kids under 25, otherwise look just like an American deployment. Middle aged men in the reserves called up to lead kids into battle in a place they have hardly any idea about. Kids. Wannabees. Career military.


We see the proud Gard Hussars Regiment heading to Helmand province and meet a few of the kids: Mads, Daniel Rasmus, and Kim. There are tearful goodbyes, from lovers and sisters and mothers and uncles, and the same shocked vacant stares of parents who want to now what beef Denmark  has with the Pashtun and why their child must pay the price. The kids have fabulous homes, and listen to the same thrash metal and hip hop our kids listen to. They watch with fearful eyes as outgoing soldiers warn them that the Taliban are quite up to the task they have taken on. They learn that the Taliban are just 800 meters away from the edge of the ISAF compound. That 800 meters consists of a perfectly mowed, leveled field of fire for the Danish. Beyond which is the magnificent mountainous countryside.


One of the things you can’t ignore about this movie is the lush effulgent landscape. It is the ultimate irony that these soldiers, many who hail from very ordinary places are given a rare treasure, a chance to see one of the most beautiful places on the Earth, yet in the context of war. The cinematography on this movie is exceptional and so well done that if you have an HD screen and turned the sound down for the entire movie, it would be worth every second and every penny you paid for it.


The camera shows the locals arguing with the translator who goes out on patrol. “How can you ask me where the Taliban are? Do you really not know where the Taliban are?” The translator tries to convey the sincerity of the Danish commander who replies back, that if they do not cooperate with the ISAF forces, no one will be able to stabilize the country. “If they see me cooperate with you they will cut my throat,” is the unanswerable answer.  In subsequent exchanges, the locals constantly complain about losing a goat or a cow that produces milk for a family. The Danes have to recompense them. You wonder whether the locals are playing the occupational forces like fools, insistently demanding compensation for false claims. In other exchanges you can see the anger and fear and frustration with the ISAF forces whose war has seen them lose family members. “I lost a daughter,” says one man, “and my mother,” he adds, all in bombings. The bombings are not all loose projectiles sent from helicopters. Many are unfortunate accidents when locals happen into close proximity to IED ambushes.


One of the Gard Hussars, Rasmus, suffers a cracked skull, and lost teeth in an IED attack. The documentary covers him clean-shaven and bald before the attack, and bearded and adorned with a ball-cap afterwards, some of which is to hide scars. He returns to combat.


There is an ebb and flow to the narrative. One of the hardest things the troopers have to get used to is exercising domination patrols. Thee are forced incursions into occupied enemy territory to make a statement about who will rule the region. There is an IED attack on one of the Gard Hussars units and it kills four people, after severing most of their legs off.


So revenge becomes a stakeholder in the war.


The camera work is good enough to catch the actual snap and terror and noise of an ambush. And we see the horrifying moment of self reflection a soldier goes through when he learns that he called a mortar strike in that killed a little girl.


The Danes seem to use the same hand launched drones and small arms fire that we use. They wear the same camouflage BDUs. They do fly French and German helicopters, and they did show an F-15 peeling off after a strike. They play the same first person shooter video games and they watch an enormous amount of pornography. The want to see action to prove themselves, just like our soldiers and they fight for their fellow soldiers more than they fight for any other cause.


In a major battle, the Danes get their revenge when they decide to ambush the Taliban and succeed. In a confused moment they are fired upon and find five Taliban in a ditch. Daniel tosses a grenade and kills four of them. In the aftermath, one of them phones homes and gives his parents the impression that they liquidated wounded and then laughed about it.


Again, it is the similarity of the experience with our own soldiers that bears flagging.



All hail Netflix.



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 7, 2017 at 7:15 am

Please change this sentence: “who want to now what beef The Netherlands has with the Pashtun”. I do realise most US citizens do not know the difference between Denmark and The Netherlands (or Holland, as you call it), but although we (the Dutch, the people from The Netherlands) also had, and have, troops over in Afghanistan, this film is about Danes, the people from Denmark.

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