Editor's Note: Congratulations to Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington for the Academy Award nomination for their documentary Restrepo. We spoke to Junger this summer about his deployment in Afghanistan's Korenga Valley, known as the deadliest place in Afghanistan at the time. Here is a look at the interview, again.
Filmmakers Sebastian Junger (left) and Tim Hetherington in 2007 at Outpost Restrepo—Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Photograph by Tim Hetherington
Bestselling author Sebastian Junger and photojournalist Tim Hetherington, both seasoned war reporters, have just released a powerful new documentary, Restrepo. In order to show the true experience of an American solider, the pair joined the men of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade for a full deployment. It just so happened that the platoon got assigned to the Korengal Valley, a six-mile slit in the foothills of the Hindu Kush known as the deadliest place in Afghanistan. During their 14-month project, Hetherington broke his leg and Junger tore his Achilles and survived an IED attack. Both men could have easily been taken out during the almost daily firefights. But this isn't their story. The journalists remained far out of the frame to show the soldiers' experience. And unlike The Hurt Locker, this is real. At times devastating, at times playful, this story is very real. We spoke to Junger about making the film, dodging death, the McChrystal question, and what's needed next in Afghanistan. —Mary Anne Potts
You've been reporting from Afghanistan since 1996. Why do you keep going back?
In 2001, it was an easy win. The Afghan people were, for he most part, incredibly grateful to be rid of the Taliban. And it looked like the story was over. And then, I think, we didn’t leave enough troops there, and we moved on to Iraq, and the war got worse and worse. By 2005 I thought, O.K., since we are going to be there for so long, I want to know what it’s like to be a solider in the U.S. military. I was with Battle Company of the 173rd in Zabol province in 2005, and I was really amazed by those guys. It was my first experience with the U.S. military. I decided that if they went back to Afghanistan, I wanted to do a project that shows what it is like to be a soldier in combat in the U.S. military. I wanted to be with a platoon for a full deployment—a platoon is about 35 men. So they went back to Afghanistan in 2007, and I followed them there about a week or two later.
What made you decide to shoot your first documentary in the Korengal Valley, which was known as the deadliest place in Afghanistan for the intense, frequent fighting that occurred there?
I didn’t know it would be. I was going over there because Battle Company was there. I had never heard of the Korengal Valley before. They hadn’t either. It just happened to be a very violent place.