`CBS Reports': Afghanistan, its invaders and defenders. Ban on newsmen makes thorough reporting difficult, but some facts emerge anyway
CBS Reports: The Battle For Afghanistan Tomorrow, 10-11 p.m. Correspondent: Dan Rather. Writer/executive producer: Perry Wolff. Director/cinematographer: Mike Hoover. This is a documentary that takes aim and fires.
Its dual targets: to reveal the Soviet motive for the invasion of Afghanistan, and to record the actions of a troop of mujahideen resistance fighters as they take the city of Khost and use it as the center for a ``Free Afghanistan.''
Utilizing the critical if sometimes confusing combat footage of ``CBS Evening News'' cameraman Mike Hoover, the film zeroes in on the Soviets as they move against the resistance as well as the mujahideen as they prepare for combat. Most amazing is the night footage, shot with a special lens adaptation.
According to the writer, veteran documentarian Perry Wolff, conditions for coverage of this war by banned newsmen have become so dangerous that we are unlikely to see much serious investigation for some time. Thus, Dan Rather narrates from a New York studio.
He reports some difficult-to-verify facts: that the Congress gave half a billion dollars in aid to the mujahideen; that their principal arms supplier is China; that of the nation of 16 million Afghans, 1 million have been killed by the Soviets, 4 million have been displaced, and 5 million have fled the country to Pakistan and Iran. According to Mr. Rather and Mr. Wolff, it has become a ghost country.
Dr. Sharuk Gran, the CBS guide provided by the resistance, says: ``What the Russians want is the country, the soil ... not us.'' As Rather explains it, the Soviets have achieved their war goals: They have depopulated Afghanistan and now have a buffer state between them and Iran, whose fundamentalism they fear. He quotes a historian writing about the Roman legions: ``They make a desert and call it peace.''
This ``CBS Report'' manages to hit its target of defining Soviet intentions. Unfortunately, it fails to record the takeover of Khost, because the Soviets anticipated the action and the battle never took place.
But a target at which it never really takes aim is the question of what the mujahideen want beyond the expulsion of the invaders.
While the documentary mentions the fact that the fighting against the Soviets is a ``jihad,'' it tends to gloss over the fact that, if victorious, this holy war could result in still another revolutionary fundamentalist Islamic state, perhaps even aligned with Iran. So the complex issues are, perhaps, not as black-and-white as presented.
The strength of the documentary lies in the ``entertainment value'' of its unique guerrilla battle footage rather than in any insightful analysis beyond the obvious. I had hoped for more from Dan Rather, Perry Wolff, and ``CBS Reports,'' which used to have a well-earned reputation for incisive, hard-hitting public-service documentaries.