The 2021 United States dramatic airlift out of Afghanistan is the subject of “Escape From Kabul,” an HBO Original documentary being released on Sept. 21.
Directed by Jamie Roberts (“Four Hours at the Capitol”) and executive produced by Dan Reed (“Leaving Neverland”), the docu was filmed over 18 days during the United States military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan’s Kabul International Airport last year. The chaotic airlift ended a two-decade war with the Taliban that began shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
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U.S. Marines were deployed to Kabul on August 13, 2021, with orders to evacuate American citizens and “at risk” Afghans who had cooperated with the Americans and Allied Forces during the 20 -year conflict. The orderly evacuation was meant to be implemented by the agreed-upon deadline of August 31, but the Taliban unexpectedly took control of the city two days after the Marines arrived. Fearing the Taliban takeover and the subsequent crackdowns on human rights, thousands of Afghan men, women, and children rushed to the Kabul Airport, seeking an escape route. Taliban fighters, including suicide troops, encircled the airport perimeter in an uneasy truce with U.S. and Allied forces.
In the final week of the withdrawal, a suicide bomb attack that ISIS claimed killed 13 U.S. military personnel and more than 170 Afghan civilians.
In “Escape From Kabul,” Roberts captures the intense, dangerous evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghan citizens. To tell the story, Roberts uses never-before-seen archival footage taken on the ground at the airport along and exclusive interviews with people who were in Afghanistan during the time, including Afghan citizens attempting to flee, U.S. Marines tasked with managing the evacuation, and Taliban commanders and fighters who had recently taken the city.
“What’s so special about “Escape From Kabul” is how it drops you right in the midst of this action-filled, catastrophic event – the dying moments of America’s longest war – and uses unseen footage and startling testimony to create a gripping blow-by-blow narrative of US Marines, Taliban, ordinary Afghans trying to escape,” says Reed. “This is history happening right there in front of you, it feels so close and personal that the audience knows “But for an accident of birth that could be me, right there. It’s a very particular sub-genre of documentary that we’ve pioneered over the years with a lot of support from HBO.”
In all, 124,000 people were evacuated during the Kabul airlift, the largest in modern U.S. history. A final coda, filmed in the spring of 2022, confirms the Taliban government’s restrictions on women and girls and violent reprisals, leaving an uncertain future for many Afghan citizens who were not able to evacuate in August 2021.
Roberts and Reed recently collaborated on HBO’s “Four Hours at the Capitol,” a documentary about the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The film debuted last fall.
The docu was executive produced by HBO Original Documentary co-heads Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller. HBO’s Anna Klein served as a coordinating producer.
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