12 Strong: The Beginning of Freeing Afghanistan

Mitchell Rolling

12 Strong is a suspenseful war-film based on a true story that will have most people – outside the UMN campus – leaving the theater with an appreciation for our country’s bravest men and women serving in the military.

This miraculous story took place shortly after 9/11. Against tremendous odds, the members of ODA 595 went on an almost impossible mission with a local warlord, who still fought using horses, to invade Afghanistan territory held by the Taliban.

The movie begins with the members immediate reactions to the twin towers falling. 12 Strong imbues a feeling of patriotism within the audience as the soldiers are all seen craving action on the battlefield, and if possible, to be the first ones in on a daring mission alongside the Northern Alliance to the Taliban base in Mazar-I-Sharif.

The only thing standing in their way is a few more towns and an entire supply-line that can keep sending men to the front lines. These men fighting for the Taliban, as the North Alliance warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum explains, do not fear death. They welcome it, in fact.

As they go from town to town, the movie details how it wasn’t all easy. Even though the Captain, Mitch Nelson, was portrayed as a genius wartime thinker who, although never seeing combat before this, comes in to save the day more than once, the film still manages to highlight the difficulties that soldiers face on the battlefield.

In particular to fighting in the Middle East, communication problems were a main issue. 

When ODA 595 members first met with the Northern Alliance, they jumped them in fear of it being an Al-Qaeda scouting team. Later, when dropping the first B-52 bombers on Taliban forces, Dostum gave Nelson the wrong coordinates that led to very few Al-Qaeda casualties. To highlight this miscommunication even further, the Northern Alliance warriors cheered as the bombs dropped – even though they were off target.

There was also a presence of conflicting interests among the Northern Alliance themselves. In American terms, the Northern Alliance included a competing army to Dostum and his men. Once Dostum realizes that the American military is sending another group of men with this competing army to Mazar-I-Sharif, he bails… but only to return again. 

The movie does give off a “look how American’s save the day” vibe, and does not dive into the overall political situation of our involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East after 9/11. But that’s because it doesn’t have to.

Not every movie has to be a political statement, as some people suggest this movie should have been.

If anything, my adrenaline was stirring more when hearing the passionate words of Dostum and of how the Taliban had killed his family and that of so many others. It reminds us that these people were and still are fighting for their freedom against a fascist-like mentality. It reminds is that our involvement in the Middle East can be an asset when used correctly for Muslims and Arabs who are fighting for their right to live peacefully in a place void of Islamic-extremists.

12 Strong is a good war movie, but by no means one of the greats such as Saving Private Ryan. It does not dwell on the politics of Afghanistan because it is not a political story. The men detailed in this film were not thinking about politics, but rather responding to the terrorists responsible for 9/11 with a deadly message from the American military.