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Week of 10.2.09

Afghanistan: The Forgotten War

On the front lines with Marines in Afghanistan: Can we defeat a resurgent Taliban?

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NOW on PBS Correspondent Bill Gentile reports from Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, where he was embedded for nearly three weeks in the summer of 2008 with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24th MEU).

The 24th MEU was among 60,000 foreign troops on the ground in Afghanistan—more than half of them American. These troops face an ominous challenge as the Taliban attempts a return to power, in some cases merging with other insurgent groups, and potentially providing safe haven for Al-Qaeda and other anti-American terrorists.

Reporting from the front lines, NOW provides a soldier's-eye look into what was once considered America's "forgotten war" and fast becoming the most alarming one.

This show was originally broadcast on July 17, 2008.

Related Links

Web Features

Impressions from Afghanistan
Correspondent Bill Gentile shares images and experiences embedded with the Marines on the front lines.
Bill Gentile's personal website, his page at American University's School of Communication and information on the backpack journalism workshop he offers in conjunction with NOW on PBS.

In the News

The Economist: The Afghanistan war: Reinforcing failure?

NewsHour: NATO Chief Backs Obama's Approach in Afghanistan

New York Times: U.S. Critic of Karzai Is Fired From U.N. Mission

NPR: Can Obama Say No To His Generals On Afghanistan?

Reuters: Suicide bomber kills American in Afghanistan

Viewer Comments

Commenter: Dennis
Forgotten war? Total rubbish. It has been watched by every person in America on TV at least once a day, and every news program has always had an item every day.

Commenter: SALLY NAVE
After listening to the Tapes of Pres. Johnson, there is no way, we simple people can know what Pres. Obama has to deal with each day, BUT when we come to a time when we do not know what to do, AND after just so much seeking advisement from others, we can preceed our Choice with the 'MAKEING OF A LIST of PROS & CONS', then 'go within' as Pres. Linclon our Heart and make the best choice that we can....KNOWING many will not agree with us,and, RELEASING OUR EGOIC CONCERNS WITH THE STRENGTH OF OUR INTENTION, WE MAKE THE CHOICE THAT WILL ALLOW US TO SLEEP PEACEFULLY AT NIGHT......TO STOP KILLING PEOPLE AND SENDING OUR CITIZENS 'KIDS' TO BE KILLED FOR NO 'HONEST TO GOD'GOOD REASON!!!!! As was said in the Tapes: "....the more we do for them the less they do for themselves". etc., etc.

FOR ME, as a Veteran of the Korean War Era, I'm deeply troubled by Pres. Obama's seeming about face on the war issue,.... as well as the Lobbyist issue, appointing people with less than clean records (Gytner) in financial positions, AND not giving enough support to the Greening of America JOBS OR the financial support of the troops whose LIVES AND FAMILIES LIVES HAVE BEEN RUINED FOREVER!!!!
Summary: As an American citizen, the National problems are overwhelming to me, thus I seldom listen to the news....except NPR, and I WISH THE PRES. WOULD USE HIS STRENGTH AND POWER OF HIS POSITION TO MAKE SOME CHOICES "FOR THE GOOD OF ALL" AND SAVE seems to me we CAUSE TOO MANY PEOPLE to SUFFER by allowing the lobbyist backed Bickering and delay after delay after delay!
IN OTHER WORDS, "President Obama, please use your Executive Order and JUST DO SOME OF THE THINGS YOU CAN DO, WITH ENDLESS DELAYS. Sincerely, Sally Nave

Commenter: Linda Pope
It is a very sad state of affairs when our young people are so severely damaged in war and our gov't does not want to give them all the care they deserve. It would be only right to pay spouses for caring for them and to give them them respite care as well. A young wife staying with her husband when she could use her education as an engineer to care for her husband.Such devotion should be compensated. As a retired R.N, I can understand her uphill battle with the red tape, her frustation. Give her all the help possible, this couple are making the supreme sacrifice for us all.

Commenter: C.J. Mayes
Thanks for the brief glimpse into the lives of the soldiers in Afghanistan. I thank them for doing a job that no one should have to do. Stay safe out there.

Commenter: R. Wintersteen
Perhaps Morton Brussel and Grady Lee Howard should share their ideas and themselves with Alpha Company. Clearly they think they know what is going on better than my son-in-law and his men. You have no idea who these men are and what they are doing. What are you doing to help? What did you watch and listen to? Did you miss the part where A Company is helping the village to become a safer place to live?

Must be nice to sit in air conditioning, have water available at any moment, a soft bed to sleep in, a family to see everyday, and no bullets or mortar flying over your heads. I hope you never have a relative join any armed forces. It would clearly suck to have to you on their side.

I pray for the safety for all the men In Alpha Company and hope their efforts are appreciated by the people in the Afghan village.

Commenter: Gadfly
Seems another case of trying to salvage the consequences of failed policies by showing the good guys who are way at the end of the chain of events.

We supported the Taliban because they provided 'stability' for getting oil and gas through Afghanistan, which was in the interest of UNOCAL.

We supported Bin Laden because he was against the Soviets.

We supported Saddam and helped him with weapons of 'mass destruction' because he was warring against Iran.

We overthrew Mossadegh in Iran 50 years ago to protect US-UK oil interests and supported the Shah and his torturing henchmen, the Savak, for a quarter century and then got surprised by the extremist 'solution provided by Khomeini.

We refused the overtures by Khameini to restore civilized relations with Iran and cut the legs out from under the moderates there. Enter Amidinejad. As recently as last week, our 'offer' in a show of 'meeting' with Iran was: if you cave in to what we want, we won't apply additional sanctions.

Somewhere at the end of these forgotten foreign policy travesties we are offered feel-good stories about the guys who are sent to risk their lives to clean up the garbage situations we've created.

Commenter: Dena Dynan
Mr Howard, to suggest that I am some brainless wife who doesn't understand the harsh realities of war or the double talking that the politicos do is not quite what I'd call giving any military spouse all due respect. There are some people who live their lives with their head in the sand letting their naivatee carry them--'all the world is full of good people' and 'the US would never do anything wrong' etc. I am not one of those people and neither are most military wives. We know better than most that our husbands are being sent into harms way on missions that are not of their devise and most likely to forge a political agenda that is not their own. We are the ones who have to sit there with them when they wake up in the middle of the night thinking on things they could have done better. Were the cameras restricted from 100% freedom of movement--certainly. Was it done to effect some sort of POV--umm no--how about safety issues. And since when did the US say it was trying to occupy these countries? The plan is to get them on their own feet to protect themselves and move on with their own lives and prosper without the threat of tyranny. Guess some people missed the point of ending terrorism. Thanks for trying to pigeon hole an entire culture of women--that was nice...with all due respect military wives would disagree with YOU, sir.

Commenter: Michael E. Coghlan
During the first part of the show, I agree, their movement and point of view were restricted, they were taking cover behind a Marine to avoid being shot. For the village scenes, however, if their movement was restricted and their POV engineered, why did they show the interview with the local land baron stating that he didn't trust the US? Why show the Civil Affairs Officer stumbling through an interview claiming not to have the amount of money the landowner wants?

Undoubtedly, there has been some absolutely shameless profiteering by certain government contractors and there must be a reckoning. I guarantee you, however, neither Captain Dynan nor anyone under him gets a cut of that. If anything, they feel the pinch more keenly because money that gets stolen or misused is money that can't go to buy waterl, ammunition and diesel fuel. Clearly, the personal attacks and words and phrases like despicable or hired gun are being directed at the wrong targets.

Mr. Brussel's suspicions are exactly that- suspicions. We have a lot of words for that in my line of work- hearsay, conjecture, innuendo. None of these kinds of information mean you've articulated your point.

We did not create the taliban. If we can be blamed for anything, it is our failure to intervene as they took control of most of Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Their radical ideology was alive and well before our arrival on the scene.

Finally, geopolitial and transglobal occupation are buzz phrases that pseudo-intellectuals use to sound like they know anything about the subject they're speaking about. I suggest that Mr. Brussel and anyone who feel like he's onto something take a moment, think outside the box and shift their paradigm to a location where they have an unobstructed POV. Just be careful, stepping out from behind conspiracy theories requires independent thought and careful, objective analysis. It's not someting you can fire off after watching a 25 minute television show.

Commenter: Grady Lee Howard
Morton K. Brussel's suspicions seem well founded. With all due respect to Dena Dynan whose husband is deployed there, I can see how she'd prefer not to know the worst. Maybe the crew was harshly restricted, or maybe they're pro-war flaks, but this documentary footage reeked of scripting and engineered POV. The truth is that the U.S. can't ever win this trans-global occupation. The only winners will be our defense contractors and our extremist enemies, real and manufactured. Thanks anyway, NOW.

Commenter: Michael E. Coghlan
Mr. Brussel:

If Captain Dynan and his Marines were hired guns and despicable as you call them, they would have taken the large bag of opium which probably had a street value in the are of many tens of thousands of dollars. This gift was clearly offered as a bribe.

The money does not even come close to being adequate compensation for the level of work and risk. They do it for something else. They do it because they feel compelled to place themselves between us and those who would harm us. There are a lot of words that could be used to describe marines and the marine corps in general, aggressive, adaptive persistent, dedicated and even kind. Despicable doesn't even come close

I respectfully suggest that the word despicable be reserved for people who offer nothing of themselves and spend their time riddiculing, maligning and belittling those that do.

In closing, I would only state that Captain Dynan and his marines didn't have the luxury of examining a globe to decide where their next deployment would be. They go where we ask them to go ON OUR BEHALF.

Commenter: Dena Dynan
Since it was my husband's unit that was featured I clearly am biased in some ways but to throw out ridiculous comments and adjectives like despicable is hurtful and narrow minded. The comments Mr. Brussel made harken back to the post-Vietnam mentality of all military personel are baby killers. Grow up. Not everyone who joins the armed forces are blood thristy brainless killing machines. And not all news has some evil spin by the pentagon. We are fighting the good fight against people who don't fight fairly. So--things will get destroyed and people will die. It is for the greater good. I wouldn't have married Sean if I think he lacked humanity or morals. They are helping people and comments like those Brussel makes are a slap in the face to everyone serving in these remote locals and to their families as well. Get some perspective.

Commenter: Angela S.
Unfortunately, there is an underlying question: Who purchases all the opium that Afghanistan produces? I'm asking this honestly. I'm pretty sure that poppies are particular about where they grow. They flourish in dry harsh weather and soil that is more like gravel. It seems like Afghanistan would probably be able to cultivate quite a crop. I mean doesn't the U.S. utilize opiate products such as morphine, legally? Not to mention all the junkies addicted and strung out to the point of sharing needles! I know there aren't any poppy fields in North America. Anyway, these are only a few of my concerns. I would appreciate any answers you may have. Thank you, Angela

Commenter: celso otero
I personally can not say that this is a forgotten war my son is with 24thmeu Charlie Co 1st Plt and he is giving his life for some beuracratic sob in washigton that does not a single member in the arm forces i can only support my son and i will make sure that this is not a forgotten war

Commenter: Olaf P Brescia
outstanding! outstanding!!

Commenter: Morton K. Brussel
I've largely been an admirer of Now programs, until now.

The program (7/18/08) about a Marine detachment in Afghanistan reeked of pure pentagon propaganda: Our good guys killing (unseen) bad guys and smashing up a village.

Our guys should not be there in the first place. They are aggressors and occupiers of a foreign land, simply hired guns by a criminal administration and its war machine. They are as despicable (or not) as the Taliban (Are all who resist Taliban) they are fighting, and causing even more destruction and death. Seeing their evident pleasure as their killing machines wipe out a supposed enemy was disgusting. Not even a fair fight. Seeing smiling children's faces around marines means nothing: Children are like that to those who can give them candy.

We are in Afghanistan for geopolitical reasons, not for humanistic reasons.

I'm disappointed, but disabused also by this presumably enlightened program.

Afghanistan: The Forgotten War

Images and Impressions from Afghanistan

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