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Call Me Ehsaan

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Contact: Micah Garen   
Director: Micah Garen
Writer:
Producer: Micah Garen
Runtime: 9 min
Synopsis: I flew to southern Afghanistan in December 2009 with a simple question; what would we be leaving behind when we finally left Afghanistan? What began as a simple question, and a three-week journey, evolved into four months of filmmaking as I traveled from Kandahar to Zabul to Helmand to try to find answers to questions that became increasing unanswerable. I traveled around Zabul with Colonels running reconstruction teams, and State Department official standing up local governments. I watched Marines battle a hidden enemy in Helmand. And I flew with US Air Force pilots in old Soviet helicopters in Kandahar as they try to train a new Afghan Air Corp. They were all trying to win a war in forth-poorest country in the world, ravaged by decades of fighting, and steeped in conservative religious and tribal traditions. Lt. Col. Veras, the head of the provincial reconstruction team in Zabul, summed up the experience best when he said, “we haven’t be in Afghanistan for ten years, we have been here for one year ten times.” Call Me Ehsaan is a look at the US war in Afghanistan through the eyes of Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis. Lt. Col. Loftis was killed in February in Kabul following the protests that erupted after US soldiers burned Qurans. I met Lt. Col. Loftis when he was a public information officer attached to the provincial reconstruction team in Zabul province in 2010. At the time was one of only three officers in US Air Force to speak Pashto, and later the first to gain proficiency in both Dari and Pashto. Lt. Col. Loftis had spent time in the Peace Corps with his future wife in Papua New Guinea. He had a knack for languages, picking up Melanesian Pidgin easily. After the Peace Corps, he decided we wanted to serve his country and join the military. He entered the Air Force and studied to be a missile officer. But his interest in languages and cultures led him to eventually to become a public information officer, and to Afghanistan in 2009, where he served with the provincial reconstruction team in Zabul. He was deeply interested in the Afghan people and their culture, learning the poetry of Rahman Baba and recited it at a poetry reading in Zabul. His Afghan name was Ehsaan, a name he picked out of a hat, which roughly translates to “beholden under obligation”. I met Major Loftis in January 2010. He greeted me when my helicopter touched down in the PRT compound in the heart of Qalat, the small capital of Zabul province. I spent a month traveling around Zabul with the members of the PRT. Their tasks were becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous. I knew firsthand how dangerous. A 14-ton vehicle I was traveling in was hit with an estimated 150 pound IED on the return trip from a meeting with elders in a village along the heavily guarded route 1 linking Kandahar to Kabul. We were knocked off the road, and three soldiers and a State Department official were injured. We were lucky, the vehicle was traveling at 50 miles per hour, and the IED was mistimed, detonating early. As I was preparing to leave Zabul, the US military was gearing up for a new initiative, the AfPak Hands program, to combat the brain drain that was becoming increasingly problematic for the US in Afghanistan. The initiative meant a five year commitment, two more one-year deployments in Afghanistan, and three years stateside. I asked Major Loftis if he was going to join the AfPak Hands program, as he seemed an ideal candidate. He said he was not because he was committed to spending more time with his family. In 2011, Lt. Col. Loftis returned to Afghanistan, having been personally recruited into the program by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He was a chief plans officer working with the Afghan National Police in the Ministry of the Interior. On February 25, 2012, he was shot and killed in the Ministry of the Interior following the protest over US soldiers burning Qurans. Lt. Col. Loftis wrote a letter to his two daughters before his first deployment to Afghanistan, explaining the reasons for his leaving. In it he writes: “My reasons for going to Afghanistan include an honorable sense of duty to help others. If I had stayed home and not volunteered to go, I would have always wondered what I could have contributed.”
 
 
Genre: Islamic, Human Rights
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