In October 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks in New York, the US and NATO went to war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Almost 13 years later, the Western allies are finally withdrawing – with almost all foreign combat troops set to leave the country by the end of this year. By the time they go, many thousands of combatants from both sides and tens of thousands of civilians will have been killed or seriously wounded.
Few people have understood what this has meant in reality better than the Medevac personnel who over those years flew countless helicopter missions out across the country to pick up casualties, often while under fire themselves.
So what was it like aboard one of these units? How did the teams cope with the stresses and demands of a role that brought them into daily contact with tragedy and pain.
Two years ago, veteran cameraman Vaughan Smith spent a fortnight behind the scenes with the paramedics of the US Army’s 214th aviation regiment. “Blood and Dust”, his resulting film for People & Power (first shown in 2011), painted a stark and shocking portrait of the consequences of modern warfare, but also revealed the extraordinary skill, humanity and even-handedness of those providing care.
Arguments about what, if anything, the war in Afghanistan has actually achieved will continue well into the future and indeed the conflict, itself, may continue in one guise or another for some time to come. Recent bloody events elsewhere in the Middle East have shown that the after effects and spillover from the West’s “War on Terror” have often been long drawn out and hard to predict.
Yet for now this film stands as a salutary reminder of the sacrifices that too many were asked to make in one part of that war – and that even amidst the carnage and despair of a battlefield, small acts of kindness, humanity and mercy are possible. For that reason alone, it is worth repeating.
Please note that while some of the images it contains are deeply disturbing, all of the participants agreed that they be shown.