TV Review: Frontline’s ‘ISIS in Afghanistan’ Provides Timely View of Terror

Incredibly timely and equally unsettling in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, “ISIS in Afghanistan” joins an important portfolio of Frontline documentaries, detailing the group’s rise, and efforts to combat its tactics. In this case, the harrowing images hinge not only on ISIS’ brutality but on its indoctrination of children as young as 3 in the meaning of jihad, while schooling them in the use of guns and grenades to slay infidels. Only 32 minutes in length (and paired with another Frontline segment), it’s a grim portrait that lends much-needed context to reporting too often steeped in chaos and political platitudes.

In another sobering reminder of the dangers reporters endure in this part of the world, Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi spent more than eight months waiting to gain access for his first-hand account, which allowed him to spend time with members of the terrorist group. Yet while there is video of various atrocities – including the use of land mines to execute 10 prisoners – nothing is more haunting than the material involving children being taught to hate and kill.

In one sequence, two youths, age 13 and 17, are shown training to become suicide bombers. In another, kids considerably younger receive a crash course in automatic weapons, parroting back the lines their instructor tells them.

As Quraishi (whose credits include “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan”) makes clear, ISIS’ recruiting success isn’t all about winning hearts and minds, but also due to cold, hard cash. As the narration notes: “Many fighters have defected from other groups because ISIS pays more” – as much as $700 a month, which represents a lot of money in the war-torn country.

The secondary piece, “Taliban Hunters,” fills out the hour, providing another window into the battle against terrorism – here, looking over the shoulder of a Pakistani police unit charged with fighting the Taliban, which has been committing grisly acts of violence and executions in and near the city of Karachi.

Following something like the Paris attacks, the natural impulse – and certainly the cathartic one – is to want to lash out, even as candidates and commentators engage in U.S. foreign policy debates via sound bites and Twitter. Yet as “ISIS in Afghanistan” illustrates, those issues are complicated when facing an enemy so rooted in nihilism, which teaches children to place taking strangers’ lives ahead of their own.

Following “The Rise of ISIS” and “United States of Secrets,” “ISIS in Afghanistan” adds further dimension to Frontline’s reporting on not just the terrorists but the potential sacrifices required to stop an opponent that’s so ruthless. As TV viewing goes, watching isn’t the best prescription for a good night’s sleep, but it is, at least, a step toward being better informed.

TV Review: Frontline's 'ISIS in Afghanistan' Provides Timely View of Terror

(Documentary; PBS, Tue. Nov. 17, 10 p.m.)

Production: Produced by Clover Films and Frontline.

Crew: Executive producer, Raney Aronson-Rath; senior producer, Dan Edge; producer, Jamie Doran. ISIS in Afghanistan: director-camera, Najibullah Quraishi. Taliban Hunters: director-reporter, Mobeen Azhar. 60 MIN.

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