Afghan Taliban view

The Afghan war from behind enemy lines: Documentary-maker follows Taliban as they attack U.S. soldiers

By James White

A documentary made by a Norwegian journalist embedded with Taliban fighters has provided a rare glimpse of the other side of the Afghanistan conflict.

The raw footage – captured by Paul Refsdal – shows the Afghan militants attacking U.S. convoys on a road below their mountainous hide-out and celebrating hits with a high-five.

The men also show their softer side to the Norwegian journalist by singing, reciting verses from the Koran and even brushing their long hair as he quietly records their day-to-day activities.

Taliban documentary Concern: Taliban fighters refuse to show their faces to documentary-maker Paul Refsdal as he films Behind Enemy Lines while embedded with a group fighting U.S. soldiers in east Afghanistan

Taliban documentary Mountainous: A young fighter clasping an AK47 machine gun sits above a valley as the Taliban group relax between fighting

Taliban documentary Discussion: The men spend much of their time talking and even joking, much like soldiers they are fighting against, the documentary shows

But the venture is far from risk-free as Refsdal reveals during his narration of the 20-minute film entitled Behind Enemy Lines.


Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has criticised the U.S. for revealing it will start pulling out of the country in July 2011.

Meeting U.S. congressman, the Afghan leader said President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July 2011 has given ‘the enemy a morale boost’ because they believe they can simply hold out until the Americans leave.

Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina and one of the four U.S. congressmen who attended the one-hour meeting, said Karzai focused primarily on criticism of private security contractors and the role of Afghan forces in the war.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai Karzai has ordered all Afghan and international security contractors to cease operations by the end of the year, saying they have abused Afghan civil rights and undermined the authority of the state.

He also emphasised that Afghans should take the lead in going into villages to clear out Taliban, with U.S. soldiers behind them playing a supporting role, Inglis said.

‘I was glad he said that because it indicated a level of ownership and commitment to Afghans taking charge of the task,’ Inglis said. ‘I think it’s an open question as to whether the Afghan security forces (are) at that level as of yet.’

Karzai also raised concerns about Taliban hideouts in Pakistan, Inglis said, asking the lawmakers to provide more help in trying to stop attacks from across the border.

‘He seemed pretty pumped up, very determined and energetic and optimistic, which was not the way I thought we’d find him,’ Inglis said.

At one stage, the small band of mujahaideen come under fire from a fearsome U.S. AC130 gunship – a converted transport plane equipped with powerful machine gun and rockets.

And at the end of the documentary, the journalist explains how in a bid to capture further footage he is kidnapped by a separate group, but is released unharmed six days later.

The film begins with Refsdal saying how he spent seven weeks waiting in Kabul for permission to join Dawran, a commander in the east of the country.

There are tense scenes as he first comes into contact with the group, when fighters cover their faces from the cameraman.

He describes it as the ‘point of no return’ and says: ‘At that point I had to greet them and trust they were not fanatics.

‘The Taliban are fighting tall white men and I am a tall white man with a camera.

‘If the Taliban suspect me of being a spy they will execute me.’

Heavily-armed men are then seen scowling at the camera in tense scenes, but by day two they have settled into their normal routines.

The commander of the group, bearded and long-haired Dawran, is then introduced and shown living in a hand-built clay house with his wife and three young children.

He is seen leading his men in ideological discussions, a prayer session and a talk on tactics before gun fire is heard in the valley below.

A lighter moment is provided by a fighter declaring ‘I put it in the wrong way’ as they load their weapons in preparation for an attack on U.S. vehicles.

The attack itself involves a radio  discussion with another unit closer to the Tarmac road which American army men are forced to use everyday.

Over the radio, a commander says: ‘Allah make our enemies perish. I seek refuge in you. Alllah make the mujahaideen victorious.’

Then the man’s voice can be heard saying: ‘Use the rocket launcher Rafiq, fire the launcher.’

Meanwhile, Dawran’s men are using a heavy-calibre machine gun to fire on the Humvee armoured vehicles, apparently destroying one.

Taliban documentary Target: The road can be seen in the valley below and is used daily by American troops as they drive supply convoys around the region in east Afghanistan

Taliban documentary Celebration: Taliban fighters perform a high five after the man in the centre who is operating a heavy machine gun claims he has hit an American vehicle

They celebrate with a high-five and moments later singing can be heard over the radio.

Dawran claims 80 fighters were involved in the attack, before showing his young son and daughter to the camera as he gently plays with them.

Taliban documentary In charge: Commander Dawran explains to the journalist how the attack on U.S. troops was conceived and carried out as he controls operations from high ground

Taliban documentary Family man: Dawran sits with his daughter who lives with him in the mountains. It is believed she was later killed by U.S. jets during a raid

Next, a bizarre sequence in which one Taliban fighter, clad in eye make-up, brushes his long hair whihc has been died with henna as a comrade sings.

Refsdal informs viewers that a price of $400,000 has been placed on Dawran’s head, and the commander himself tells the story of how he was almost killed by a traitor.

Later their perilous position is exposed when the men become concerned by the sight of the U.S. gunship flying nearby.

The narrator says: ‘One aircraft that scared them is a transport plane transformed into a gunship.

‘When this was in the air Dawran was very concerned.’

During the night, the fighters flee into the mountains when it becomes apparent their hide-out is to be attacked.

Taliban documentary Devout: The deeply-religious fighters pray before an attack and speak throughout the piece of their Islamic faith

Taliban documentary Armed and dangerous: The fighters show off their weaponry

And the next day U.S. special forces achieve a successful raid on the house of Dawran’s deputy, killing him and a dozen fighters and relatives.

This action ends Refsdal’s filming of the unit, and he is told to go back to Kabul.

But at the end of the film, the documentary-maker reveals he was tempted back to the hills by another fighter called Omar, and kidnapped, but released six days later.

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