Breathtaking tales of courage and desperation amid the fall of Kabul: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV
Evacuation (Channel 4)
Champion (BBC 1)
What do you take with you when you are fleeing for your life, if you are allowed just 10 kilos of luggage? For a few brief hours as the Taliban flooded back into Kabul in August 2021, the question seemed to make sense.
Families facing certain death if they stayed in the Afghan capital gathered a few possessions — mostly jewellery and clothes.
One young British paratrooper said he expected to see armfuls of photo albums, but these days our treasured pictures are stored digitally, in the ‘cloud’.
Instead, he said in pained bewilderment, he saw evacuees carrying ‘lots and lots of velvet curtains’.
The question of luggage soon boiled away to nothing. As harrowing footage revealed in Evacuation (Channel4), the first of a superb three-part documentary, the truth is that when survival is the stake, our only essential luggage is life itself.
Harrowing footage is revealed in Evacuation, Channel 4 (pictured), the first of a superb three-part documentary
‘I have never seen desperation like that,’ said a sergeant major in the Paras.
This unmissable account is constructed from interviews with the troops, both Army and RAF, who were flung at short notice into bases at Kabul airport and ordered to oversee the mass extraction of British passport-holders and Afghan refugees.
The first hour culminated in truly shocking footage of thousands of panicked evacuees attempting to crowd on to any aircraft around the runway, while outside the perimeter a guerrilla army of Taliban fighters closed in.
An Allied helicopter hovered above the heads of the terrified crowd, trying to clear them back so a U.S. C17 transport plane could take off.
Troops fired warning shots, but a dozen or more Afghans clambered onto the aircraft’s undercarriage and clung to its fuselage. As the plane took off, their bodies tumbled down like whirling specks of dust.
The trauma of that day and the two weeks that followed have left deep emotional scars on those who lived through it.
One RAF police squadron leader, her name given only as Diana, was still coming to terms with the enormity of it.
On August 11, 2021, she was contacted by a senior officer who warned her to prepare for a major extraction operation — without telling her where it was happening, or how many people might be involved.
A week later, she said, she was trying to hold back the collapse of a capital city with a handful of personnel, many of them inexperienced and some as young as 19 — ‘basically a sixth-form field trip’.
The stories that emerged were breathtaking, both for the matter-of-fact courage shown and for the sheer lack of planning by Western politicians.
One unit was despatched to the British embassy, to hack the royal crest off the wall and pour the ambassador’s champagne down the drains.
The lunatic logic was that this would deny the Taliban a propaganda victory.
Meanwhile, ‘waves and waves of people’ were bursting through military cordons in a frantic, hopeless effort to escape.
The first hour of the programme culminated in truly shocking footage of thousands of panicked evacuees attempting to crowd on to any aircraft around the runway, while outside the perimeter a guerrilla army of Taliban fighters closed in
The squadron leader stood on a balcony, she said, saw the airport was surrounded, and realised: ‘I may not be going home.’
After such real-life drama, it’s hard to care about the challenges facing Vita (Deja J Bowens), a London pop wannabe who is fed up with living in the shadow of her rapper brother, in Champion (BBC1).
The soundtrack of grime music doesn’t help, with its emphasis on violence and aggression. Nor do the social media messages popping up on screen.
Champion is aimed at teenagers, so what it’s doing on BBC1 on a Saturday evening, traditionally a time for family viewing, is a mystery. Surely its target audience will all be out enjoying themselves.
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