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Best Documentaries About the Global War on Terrorism

On September 11, 2001, the United States of America was attacked on their soil for the first time since December 7, 1941. The attacks shook not only America but the whole world, and launched the United States into their longest war to date. The tumultuous occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan lasted 20 years and ended in a botched pullout that saw the Taliban take back Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

Like other wars, there have been a ton of documentaries to be released on this subject. While the documentaries are riveting, most can be difficult to watch due to the information that has come out about the American Occupation. The following films are some of the most interesting documentaries about the so-called ‘Global War on Terrorism’ America has waged in the Middle East the past two decades.


Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq

Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq focuses on veterans who received life-changing injuries. The late James Gandolfini was a producer of the film and was able to sit down with these veterans to discuss how they received their injuries and the emotional effects it has had on them.

The 2007 documentary is named after the term “Alive Day” which means the day a person almost died, and it is meant to empower the person to not look back on the day with contempt, but as some veterans explain that is difficult to do. Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq is currently streaming on HBO Max.


Restrepo was directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who sadly passed away in 2011 at the age of 41 while covering the Libyan civil war. The film follows the year the two directors spent in Afghanistan while they were on assignment for Vanity Fair.

Related: These Are the Best War Movies on Netflix You Can Stream Right Now

The 2010 film documents the Second Platoon, Battle Company as they begin their 15-month deployment in Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Restrepo was nominated for Best Documentary for the 2010 Academy Awards and truly captures what these soldiers went through in what is considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. Military.


Korengal is the 2014 sequel to Restrepo and takes off where the first film left off. The film, directed by Sebastian Junger, is made up of footage that did not make the first film. Korengal has a different feel from Restrepo as it centers more on the soldiers’ experience. This film is great in its display of camaraderie and the bond that is created between soldiers. Although both movies do stand alone, it is worth watching them back-to-back to get a true understanding of what it was like for the soldiers in the Korengal Valley.

To Be of Service

To Be of Service is a beautiful film about the power of service dogs. The film, directed by Josh Aronson, discusses the effects of PTSD and how it inhibits veterans from living their lives. The Netflix film shows how service dogs have helped veterans cope when all other treatments have failed. The 2019 documentary has been well received and even had a brand-new song by Bon Jovi called “Unbroken.” To Be of Service is currently streaming on Netflix.

Taxi to the Dark Side

Taxi to the Dark Side is a very tough but important watch as it documents the interrogation techniques used by the United States at the Bagram detention center. The 2007 film examines the United States’ policy on torture by interviewing soldiers, detainees, and other officials that were involved in the interrogations. The documentary, directed by Alex Gibney, was part of the Why Democracy? series, which examined contemporary democracy in 10 films from across the world. Taxi to the Dark Side is currently available on Peacock.

Related: Best Movies About the Recent War in Afghanistan and the American Occupation

Escape From Kabul

One of the best movies to come to HBO Max this year was Escape From Kabul. The 2022 HBO original documentary was directed by Jamie Roberts and focuses on 18 days in August 2021 as the United States withdrew their troops from Afghanistan. During this time the Taliban had seized the city which lead to the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghan citizens. The film interviews soldiers, evacuees, and officials as they discuss the tough decisions that had to be made during that time and whether things could have been handled differently. Escape From Kabul is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Hell and Back Again

Hell and Back Again focuses on the United States Marine Corps sergeant Nathan Harris as he deals with a serious combat injury and PTSD. The 2011 film was directed by Danfung Dennis, who met Sergeant Harris in 2009 when he was allowed to film with Sergeant Harris’ unit as they took part in Operation Khanjar. Upon returning to the states, Dennis decided to make his film solely on Sergeant Harris who invited the director to his home. The film follows the year Dennis spent with Harris and his wife, and shows the difficult aftermath our soldiers face upon returning home. Hell and Back Again was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2012 Academy Awards.

Although many of these films can be hard to watch, they are very important in showing the effects of the American Occupation on both U.S. soldiers and the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. Through these documentaries, we can begin to piece together what happened over the 20 years of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and the consequences which will linger internationally.

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Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash