This sort of documentary is ten-a-penny these days so there's a real danger that the message will become lost in a sea of low quality, opportunist, sensationalising rubbish. Terrill's five part documentary was aired, during early 2012 on Channel 5. C-5 is not a medium that I would automatically associate with award winning documentaries but Mission Afghanistan is in no danger of eclipse and it stands high, very high, above the herd.
The series follows the fortunes of L Company 42 Commando during a 6 month deployment to Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Terrill focusses on a number of the Marines and also on other soldiers, sailors and airmen (and women) deployed in and around the area or attached to the unit. Much of the action is based on a series of patrols in the area around their compound near the village of Loymanda, and there /is/ plenty of action. One of the tactics used by the unit was to patrol an area overtly purely to draw fire from the enemy, this being the best way to engage and kill the taliban fighters. For this reason, the deployment was a busy (and costly) one. However the series really does get to know the individual personalities in the unit and my wife and I found ourselves closely engaged with them all.
It's important to note that, while the ammunition expenditure is high, there's another story being told - one where the local population are being helped to rebuild their communities and businesses. It's hard to be optimistic: the resilience of the taliban is such that, when the military presence is withdrawn in a few years time, they are bound to return to re-exert their infuence. One can only hope that the civilian population have been given enough of a boost that such advances can be resisted.
One way that this scores over the (perhaps) better known series
by Ross Kemp is that Terrill keeps himself very much in the background. His presence is sensitive, understated and it avoids Kemp's style of overt matey-ness which I find a little patronising, even slightly sycophantic. Nevertheless, it is very clear that Terrill identified closely with his subjects and felt their pain. This is never so evident than when, in the final installment, he turns his attention to two Marines and an RAF dog handler who were badly injured by IEDs during the making of the documantary. It is a particularly affecting episode and the reunion of the dog handler with his dog brought a big lump to my throat.
They're remarkable people, all of them, and there's a great debt owed to them and their colleagues for the things they do in our name.
Seven men died during the 42's deployment. This is a fitting testimonial to them and their sacrifice.