The Best Documentaries about Iraq and Afghanistan

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The War on Terror: The Best Documentaries about Iraq and Afghanistan


From the start I need you to know, this isn't just a click-bait list of some random documentary list.  This is the definitive list as created by a War Movies Expert and Afghanistan combat veteran who has seen everything and carefully selected the best of the best.  This article is a carefully cultivated product that comes after much thought and deliberation.

The War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they have been documented in innumerable films.  These are the best of the best.

(For additional reading...

The Most Disturbing War Documentaries of all Time

The War on Terror in 10 Films

The Top Vietnam War Documentaries)

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The Kill Team (2013)

The Kill Team.

In every war, there are war crimes.  This is a documentary about a kill team that existed within a small group of infantry soldiers in Afghanistan.  One of the real "gets" of the documentary is an explosive interview with one of the soldiers convicted as part of the Kill Team, a soldier that spouts off at length about killing and loving war and loving the chance to shoot at people.  I've heard a lot of veterans angrily denounce this guy, and for good reasons.  What fascinates me about this documentary though is the thin line between villains (the soldier in the film) and heroes (all the rest of us), when the secret that veterans wouldn't tell outsiders, is that the feelings expressed by the convicted soldier in the film are pretty normal for infantry soldiers.  The things that the convicted killer says in the film are things I've heard many times in the Army among colleagues...the difference being that they never said those things to a documentary film crew (or killed anyone that wasn't shooting at them first).

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Restrepo (2010) & Korengal (2014)


Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (since killed in Libya), spent a year with the man of Battle Company, 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne, as they sought to secure the Korengal Valley.  From that year came two films:  Restrepo and Korengal.  They are essentially extensions of one another, Korengal simply being a second film made with excess footage from Restrepo, on the same subject matter, told in the exact same style.  Both films capture the intensity of infantry combat in a way that no other documentary has ever done.  Both films also capture the unique difficulties of fighting in Afghanistan, with an enemy that is hard to find, with a difficult mountainous terrain, and a population that will offer you tea one minute and be digging holes for IEDs the next.  These films are captivating to watch.  Both are equally good and both made my vote for best war documentary of all time.

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The Unknown Known (2013)

This Error Morris film was spectacular.  When it was released, it didn't cause a single bit of attention in the mainstream media.  This is the sort of film that should make headlines.  The citizenry should known about this film and the fact that it didn't warrant attention made me feel sad and depressed, and a bit angry at both the media and the American people.  In the film, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld puts on a charm offensive, shrugging off any consequences for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, making light of them as if they were no big deal.  The most telling take away is that he seems to be indifferent to mistakes that were made.  (This would be fine if they weren't his mistakes and if others didn't have to pay for them.) 

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No End in Sight (2007)

No End in Sight. Magnolia Pictures

This is a dated film now.  It was told at a time and place in American history when the Iraq war had no end in sight.  When everything was going very badly and the American people wanted to know how a search for weapons of mass destruction that would only take six months and pay for itself had managed to turn so badly and last so many years.  As a documentary, this film very deftly examines the mistakes that were made, who made them, and why they were made.  Yes, the film takes sides and stakes a position.  To some, this may mean it is not objective.  But the war was important and the film treats it with the reverence it deserves.  One of those documentaries that'll make you feel angry and upset.

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Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

Standard Operating Procedure. Sony Pictures Classics

Errol Morris again.  This time examining the issue of torture and Abu Ghraib, conducting interviews with many of the low-level service personnel that were eventually convicted.  While the low-level enlisted that were carrying out the behavior might have taken it too far, the film makes the very direct claim (one it throughly backs up) that the orders for this behavior came straight from the top of the administration.  The film also points out the fact that it was only the lower enlisted that received punishments.  (Also recommend Taxi to the Darkside, a companion piece to this film, this second film about the same tactics in Afghanistan.)

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Iraq for Sale (2006)

Iraq for Sale. Brave New Films

No list of documentaries about the War on Terror would be complete if we didn't touch on the fact that war is big business.  Which means that, for a lot of people, the fact that soldiers were overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan was very profitable.  It's an uncomfortable juxtaposition, one that needs to be explored and is explored in documentaries like this one.  The questions this film raises are very good.  This is another documentary that will make you shake your head in anger, upset at all the people out there in the world cheating the system, profiting off the misery of others.

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The Tillman Story (2010)

The story of Pat Tillman would have been worth a documentary if it had just been about the man.  A former NFL player that quit a lucrative contract to join the U.S. Army and was accidentally killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan was a story worth covering.  But then, in an act which sort of plays out like a temperature reading of the corrupt times we live in, his death was covered up by the Bush administration, anxious to use the heroic NFL player as a recruiting tool, making Tillman a figure in death that he had never been in life.  There's a scene where at a funeral ceremony, Tillman is made out by the Army to be a god-fearing patriot who never questioned the mission.  (The truth, of course, was that Tillman was an atheist that didn't support the war in Iraq.)  But why let reality get in the way of a good photo opportunity.

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Body of War (2007)

This is a documentary about a single soldier that fought in Iraq for just a few weeks before he was shot, returning home into a ruined body.  This is a documentary about his struggle to live a normal life, to endure constant pain, and to manage relationships, love, and life, while physically decimated.  It's not a comfortable or easy story to watch.  But it is an important film in that so many soldiers came home this way, that in that way, this is a story about many soldiers, not just one.  This particular soldier's name was Thomas Young.  He died due to complications with his physical impairments a few years after this documentary was released. 

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Control Room (2004)

Control Room. Magnolia Pictures

This documentary, released early in the Iraq War, is about the media and how media narrative shapes the contours of the public conversation, the beliefs that will emanate from these contours, and how the dividing lines for debate will be sewn.  All of which is to say is that war, and most issues of national security for that matter, are more the product of public perception rather than any external absolute truth.  Everything is relative, and how the lay of the land looks to any particular individual, largely depends on the information they've been fed.