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Frontline: Confronting ISIS Review

Updated on January 12, 2017
Martin Smith
Martin Smith | Source

The Beginning

On October 11th 2016, Frontline released a documentary called “Confronting ISIS” which describes a lot the continuing battle of the United States and its allies against the terrorist group. The movie is directed by Martin Smith, and he conducts most of the interviews as he travels to Washington DC, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and to the front lines with various armies and militias. The beginning of the film has Smith interviewing a leader of a rebel group attempting to remove ISIS out of a rural town. The group is so close to ISIS, they can hear them through the radio.

Frontline does not beat around the bush on this film. They also show footage of the brutality of ISIS, including videos of their hostile takeover of the city of Mosul and portions of the video of the Jordanian pilot 's death. Be advised some of this movie is NSFW; it is definitely a 'R'-rated movie.

ISIS Control in December 2014
ISIS Control in December 2014 | Source

The film begins with scenes of the hostile takeover of the city of Mosul on the 20th of June, 2014, and then to discussing high-level security in Baghdad. The fears of Iraq's capital and largest city becoming like Mosul was a factor for Iraqi armies and militias, since ISIS had strongholds over villages dangerously close to Baghdad.

After Baghdad, the film centers on the city of Kobani, Syria where it borders Turkey. The group going against ISIS in that city was the YPG, or Peoples Protection Service, which their service began in 2012. ISIS had attempted a full invasion of that city in late 2014, and the YPG had trouble continuing the fight without the support of Turkey. Frontline shows some footage of the Turkey's Armed Forces standing by the border but not getting involved with the fight. It also shows members of the press standing on the safe side of the border watching the chaos in Kobani. To add some comedy to this situation, food vendors are also present selling goods to the press and the military.


This documentary said that Turkey wasn't interested in getting involved with the Kobani battle due to a grudge with the YPG; rather they were protecting their own border in case the insurgents were to walk past the line. Later, the United States would assist with dropping weapons & supplies to the YPG and they rid the city of ISIS in March, 2015.

Jordan's Involvement

The involvement of the country of Jordan is also discussed. We get an overview of Jordan's involvement with the fight against ISIS, and how much more involved they were with the fight after the brutal death of Muath Al-Kasabeh. Warning, Frontline does show portions of the movie ISIS made which shows Al-Kasabeh's death. At the same time of the video’s release, Jordan’s King Abdullah II happened to be in the White House at the time and he later would participate in the attacks against ISIS is also shown. Footage of Jordan’s reaction to the pilots death is also shown. Martin Smith also interviews the father of Muath Al-Kasabeh.

Tikrit, Russia's Involvement and Paris Attacks

The fight to retake the city of Tikrit in early 2015, with help from the United States is covered next. Smith goes to Tikrit a year after it was retaken to see the slow rebuilding process, which doesn't look so good. Conflicts between militias fighting against ISIS are also discussed. Russia's involvement against ISIS makes its way to this film, as does Obama & Putin's talks before Russia's airstrikes. Frontline shows Russia's bombings of Aleppo, followed by the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

ISIS involvement in the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shootings are the close to last mentions of this documentary, however, the discussion of those attacks are not as large as some of the previous mentions. It is duly noted that Frontline made a second documentary about ISIS called “Terror In Europe” which was released a week later on October 18th 2016.

Chuck Hagel, United States Secretary of Defense (2013-15) and Vietnam War Veteran makes an appearance in this film.
Chuck Hagel, United States Secretary of Defense (2013-15) and Vietnam War Veteran makes an appearance in this film. | Source


Overall, Frontline does not disappoint and I give it a 9 out of 10 for its great interviews and lots of info. Like most shows from PBS, it does have its boring times and one can run into some information overload. Again, the attacks on Paris & San Bernardino are not covered as much as most of the battles covered in this film, but with “Terror in Europe” has more coverage of both terror attacks, Charlie Hebdo, and November 13th-14th. This is a must-watch for those who find an interest in the fight against ISIS, something the American mainstream media hardly covers as we head towards the Trump Administration.

Martin Smith does not disappoint in this documentary. He has been involved with many Frontline documentaries previously, from films about the 2008 financial crisis called “Inside The Meltdown” to many films based on conflicts in the Middle East. He has also produced films for Frontline about the Iraqi War. I like to see more work from Smith down the road, especially the Frontline docs involving the War in Iraq.


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