“The Battle for Marjah,” Reviewed

by Joshua Foust on 2/22/2011 · 4 comments

I reviewed “The Battle for Marjah,” a harrowing HBO documentary about the first days of the Marjah campaign, over at the AfPak Channel.

It is easy to misinterpret these sorts of films. The Battle for Marjah captures the agonizing the Marines go through upon learning that some of their brother Marines accidentally killed a woman and several children. It follows them, through the uncomfortable meeting with the grieving family, as the patriarch complains that he followed ISAF’s demands to hide inside his own house, only to have bombs rain down on his head. There is no easy answer for that situation, and the apology and condolence payment — $10,000 a head — feels cheap. There is palpable discomfort at the exchange, an unease at how to handle such a situation with empathy and humanity. These Marines are not bad people, in other words, even if they get excited during the adrenaline rush of combat. They don’t enjoy killing innocents, and it’s obvious they’re very concerned with helping a man in the throes of grief anyway they can.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend trying to do so somehow.

UPDATE: I was actually wrong about that—the Marines paid $2500 a head, for a total of $10,000.

Here’s the thing. At $2,500 per dead person, the U.S. could murder every man, woman, and child in Afghanistan—about 31 million people, all told—and it would cost about $77.5 billion. The war in its current state costs more than $100 billion per year. We could save a lot of money if life was really that cheap.

It’s an incredibly morbid, monstrous thing to ponder. But think about it anyway, if only for what it says about our cost considerations for the war.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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anan February 24, 2011 at 2:08 am

Do you need to subscribe to HBO to see this documentary?

Kong February 24, 2011 at 8:33 am


You can watch it here , doc was good but not as good as restrepo or armadillo.



Dishonesty? February 27, 2011 at 8:34 am

Marjah awakening!!!

Under the scheme, copied from the “awakening” councils set up in Iraq, the local bigwigs from each of Marja’s neat rectangular blocks of agricultural land raise a team of ISCI fighters of up to 50 men. These are expected to keep insurgents at bay. The tribes and families who put up the teams get $150 a man, plus a “start-up fund” of $5,000. In this way the marines have been handing out huge bundles of cash most days. The money is presumably empowering roguish characters as well as good ones, and setting some tribes against others. But Mr Hudspeth says locals running the ISCIs have the huge advantage over the marines of easily being able to detect Taliban outsiders. He also says the ISCIs are crucial for the goal of having one Afghan or American security force member for every 22 civilians in Marja—a ratio endowed with magical significance in counterinsurgency doctrine.

The question is how sustainable all this is, and how stabilising. The speed of recruitment—500 young men in a single month—means that, with 800 militia men in total, Marja’s ISCIs are already bigger than the local police force. And Mr Hudspeth wants to see the numbers rise to as much as 1,600.
Already some of the ISCIs have been acting up; gun battles between militias and police have led to deaths.


RScott February 27, 2011 at 4:58 pm

We must keep in mind that the people of Marja are first rate cash crop farmers and have been for a couple of generations who have always watched all markets carefully and reacted quickly. A chance for free money (and be provided weaponry) and cheap or free wheat seed or free cotton seed from the gin etc etc will get their attention. And we tend to continue to see most if not all the insurgents as outsiders while probably most of them are locals. And our programs must take into consideration all these possibilities. But do they?

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