A female former marine returns alone and unarmed to Afghanistan on a dangerous journey of redemption and self‐discovery.
Twenty three year old former US marine Mira Attai will travel deep into Taliban territory, this time without weapons or an army to protect her. Her mission: to find out for herself what the war was for and how it has affected ordinary Afghans who are out of the reach of most international media. At the same time, she hopes to discover where her heart truly belongs, Afghanistan or America.
Mira was just nineteen when she served in Afghanistan with the US Marines. Born in Afghanistan and raised in America within a traditional Afghan family, Mira has a deep affection for both cultures, but still doesn’t really know where she fits in. In 2009, she thought that joining the Marines would be the best way to see her country of birth (somewhere she hadn’t been since the age of 5) and to understand what was happening there.
Assigned as a cultural advisor, Mira accompanied her marine unit on dozens of dangerous missions into hostile territories in Helmand Province. Her role was not only to translate between the US army, their Afghan allies and local people, but to communicate the cultural differences and gather vital intelligence. Crucially, she could enter Afghan houses and speak to the women, something that would be unacceptable for a male to do. (In one occasion, she discovered a member of the Taliban inside, disguised in a burka.) Unsurprisingly, many locals were antagonistic, and refused to speak to her, viewing her as an enemy and an un-Islamic woman in Western uniform. Many Afghans were also uncomfortable with the fact that their womenfolk could talk to her without being observed and controlled by the men. (Even some of her American colleagues viewed her with suspicion, and on one occasion, her Afghan allies, who regarded her as a ‘bad’ Muslim, planned to kill her. The plot was discovered and Mira was hurried back to base for her own safety.) From a personal point of view, however, Mira’s missions with the marines provided her with more questions than answers, and she became increasingly unsure about America’s motives in Afghanistan. Now she wants to return, this time as an unarmed Afghan-American civilian without any back-up, to see if she can find out why she was fighting there in the first place, and if she did more harm or good.
‘Unarmed in Afghanistan’ will begin with Mira in her hometown of Sacramento, California as she prepares for her risky mission, and follow her as she arrives in the relatively secure capital of Kabul, where she will plan her onward journey. In order to fit in in the rural areas, she must buy clothes that conceal her Western identity – a black Hijab that she struggles to wear for the first time. If the Taliban discover that was an American marine, her life will be in extreme danger.
In the warzones of Nanagarhar, Kandahar, Ghazni and Helmand, Mira will hear the shocking stories of ordinary Afghan families that have been torn apart by the war - whether it was an entire family killed in an accidental shooting or drone attack, or whether they were deliberately shot to death by US troops as they slept in their beds. In Helmand, a seven-year-old boy tells Mira how he watched his mother and eight brothers and sisters die in an American drone attack. Only he and his father survived, and now the boy’s sole record of his family is a mobile phone video of their charred bodies. In Ghazni Province, an old woman is inconsolable as she describes how a three-year-old’s mother was shot and killed by US troops. The old woman now struggles to take care of the girl herself. Where the deaths or maimings were accidental, the American soldiers apologise and pay the family $1,500 per death.
But as one farmer tells Mira, “I would pay the Americans $10,000 for each member of my family if it brought them back to life. It’s not worth it if even if they gave me Washington or New York in return. I just want my family back.” Before returning to America, Mira tries to come to terms with the sorrow and anger of the people she meets, reflecting on what the US is doing in Afghanistan, and the behaviour of its soldiers there. Up until this point, she had believed that civilian deaths caused by Americans could only be accidental, but now her heart sinks as she admits that revenge could be a motivating factor for all sides. As her Afghan journey ends, Mira still has questions that have to be answered – questions that she will put to NATO and the US Army to complete her mission and this film - but no longer can she claim to be innocent in this devastating war.