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The Strength of Our Troops with 'Chain of Command'
January 15, 2018  | By David Hinckley

National Geographic takes a dramatic gamble, and it pays off in Chain of Command, a new eight-part series based on America’s military and intelligence flow chart for combatting worldwide insurgency.     

The order amidst the chaos.

Chain of Command, which launches Monday at 9 p.m. ET, examines how we protect America – and to a degree, by extension, the rest of the world – from the kind of attacks we saw on September 11 and more recently in arenas, shopping malls, and nightclubs.

To civilians, this often feels like it’s just too big and elusive a target. While Chain of Command can’t completely assuage those concerns, it reassures us there are battle plans.

Those plans start in the Oval Office, home of the commander in chief. Nat Geo follows them down through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where we get extensive commentary from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, to ground commanders who executive plans that incorporate as little as a few blocks of a contested city.

The first episode starts with Capt. Quincy Bahler, a young Tennessee officer whose unit is stationed in Mosul, Iraq, working to clear the streets of Daesh, or ISIS troops, so Iraqi soldiers can move in and take back the city, building by building.

Bahler notes that under current rules of engagement, U.S. troops don’t go into the streets. The Iraqis do that. The mission of the U.S. and a few other allied nations is “support,” which for Bahler means watching video screens that pick up movement in contested areas.

He then must determine, with the help of Iraqis and ground informants, whether the moving figures on the screens are ISIS fighters, Iraqi troops or civilians.

If it’s ISIS, Bahler will likely blow the building up.

The show picks up in late 2016 after ISIS fighters captured Mosul and left much of the city trashed.  Coalition forces are now slowly reclaiming what’s left.

Needless to say, Mosul residents are the innocent victims here, their homes and infrastructure destroyed. Exactly where they can go for refuge also isn’t clear, and the open nature of the ruined city also means U.S. troops can’t exactly hole up in a nice safe fortress. They’re on the streets, too, in a place where any man, woman or child could be strapped with a suicide bomb.

Chain of Command spends considerable time down at ground level, even as it explains how a counterintelligence operation in Africa or Central America fits into the larger mission of finding and neutralizing terrorists everywhere.

The soldiers are impressive. They joke around, they kill time and they’re serious about their mission. They also seem to grasp nuances, like the way heavy-handedness can win a day, but in the process seed even more radical behavior tomorrow.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Dunford says bluntly that we won’t win the “war on terrorism” until we help eradicate the reasons people become terrorists: poverty, dispossession, oppression, hopelessness.

The war on terrorism has always looked like a juggling act from outside, and it looks much the same from the inside. It’s both disturbing to see what America and other countries face and reassuring that we’re not ignoring it.  

Chain of Command can’t neatly connect every dot or promise we’ll win every match. It does assure us a qualified team is on the field.

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