THE BATTLE FOR MARJAH (2011) – Documentary Retroview

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Chronicling the Afghanistan War’s Largest Operation To Date

Journalist Ben Anderson spent two months embedded with U.S. Marines as they fought the in the largest (to date) offensive in the Afghanistan War. Called Operation Moshtarak, the strategy called for capture of Marjah, a small town with a large Taliban population. The film is Anderson’s chronicle of that operation.

The Military’s Model Offensive

In February 2010, U.S. Marines launched Afghanistan: Operation Moshtarak, the biggest military offensive since the start of the Afghanistan war. The main objective was to remove Taliban from the town of Marjah, their Helmand province stronghold. Then to hold the territory and build infrastructure and local government before turning control and security over to local authorities.

Anderson follows Bravo Company, under the command of Captain Ryan Sparks, as they try to carry out a battle plan that was seen as the model for decisive long term strategy and victory in Afghanistan.

Anderson relies on Sparks’ own commentary to raise questions about the efficacy of the strategy.

The Marines, he says, are there for win battles, not govern long term, yet the well-trained and dedicated troops find that a swift and decisive military victory, under the circumstances in Afghanistan, isn’t attainable.

The strategy’s success is dependent upon the Afghans welcoming U.S. forces as liberators. Sparks articulates this time and again, but we see clearly in in Anderson’s footage that there are real problems in winning local support. We see Marines evicting locals from their property and paying them money when their kin are accidentally killed by U.S. troops. In fact, we see that locals resent the presence of the U.S. troops, and blame Americans for their hardships.

Is The Strategy Working?

The U.S. troops are shown to be dedicated and determined. They’re carrying out their orders. They never question their responsibilities nor their mission, but you can sense their frustration. As one Marine puts it: “Marines fight battles, they don’t fight wars.”

The documentary poses serious questions about the efficacy of this strategy. Although Company Bravo achieves its initial mission in taking control of the town of Marjah and chasing away Taliban forces, they do not succeed in establishing stability in the area. Four months later, when Anderson returns to follow up, he finds that the Marines have lost 20 percent of their fighting force to casualties, and those who remain still engage in daily combat to retain control over what is a shrinking territory.

If Marjah is indeed seen by the U.S. government and military as a model for ongoing strategy in Afghanistan, it seems pretty clear that another plan must be found and acted upon.

Title: The Battle for Marjah
Directors: Ben Anderson and Anthony Wonke
Release Date: February 17, 2011 (on HBO)
Running Time: 84 mins.
Location: Afghanistan
Language: English, Afghan with English subtitles
Company: HBO Documentaries

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