Malbatt: Misi Bakara tells the story of the 19th Malay Regiment of the Malaysian Battalion (Malbatt) that volunteered to assist the US Army to rescue the American soldiers stuck in Bakara market in Somalia during the country’s civil war. The episode that occurred in 1993 was the central plot point of Ridley Scott’s 2003 film “Black Hawk Down,” but there was hardly any mention of the heroics of the Malay Regiment in that film. Malbatt: Misi Bakara retells the story from the Malaysian perspective and refines the plot, adding another layer of truth that has remained hidden so far. People often remember the heroics of the American military, and some question, ad nauseam, if they truly were the heroes if they went to ‘save’ a country.
Nobody in Malaysia had told this story from the Malaysian perspective, but Adrian Teh, the director of Malbatt: Misi Bakara, takes the opportunity to make a good action thriller centering around this untold tale. He also adds a critique of how American films show their soldiers and wartime situations when the reality might have been totally different. It makes us wonder: if the propaganda of war movies is kept aside, then does a possibility arise to explore other themes as well, rather than the machismo of the soldiers? Malbatt: Misi Bakara tries to be humanistic in its approach, showing the horror faced by the soldiers and genuine moments of dread that such a situation brings.
Plot Synopsis: What happens in the film?
The United Nations had created a program to bring peace to Somalia, and they named the operation UNISOM. The Malaysian Battalion had a huge part to play in the mission. The new problem was coming from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, where American soldiers were trapped and needed to be rescued. The Rebels were hiding in Bakara market, and they had enough firepower to take the American units head-on. There was assistance needed, and the 19th Mechanized Royal Malay Soldier Regiment went in to assist the American units. But soon they realized that there wasn’t enough information given regarding the Rebels’ tactics, and they had perhaps walked into a suicide mission. Some of the soldiers were also facing religious issues as the people they were going against were Muslims, and they didn’t want to be seen as part of the ‘white man’s army’ that killed others out of fear and prejudice.
Why did the Pakistani team stay behind?
After the initial success of neutralizing Hassan, the Malbatt had shown that they were adept at handling the challenges of the war zone, even though they had an inkling that they wouldn’t get the recognition they deserved at the end of the day. Everybody was doing their job courageously, putting their lives on the line, to bring peace to a country that did not remotely affect their own country. Problems arose when the American military contacted the Malbatt and asked them to assist the American unit. What they basically meant was that the Malbatt was supposed to act as the ‘carriers,’ which would take the American unit to Bakara Market in the UN’s armored personnel carrier (APC). There was a Pakistani cohort as well, which had to join in beside the Malbatt, but the mission was to commence at night, and they didn’t have night vision, which is why they backed out. A few American soldiers were trapped in the Bakara market and needed to be rescued. The two Malaysian cohorts managing Objective A and Objective B, trying to locate the stranded soldiers, found themselves under constant fire, and they were soon left to their own resources to get the American soldiers out safely.
Why couldn’t Black Hawk arrive?
Major Osman, Commander of the 19th Regiment, was worried about why Malaysian soldiers had to be put at risk for the American Mission, but a deal had been made with UNISOM by his superiors, and he was asked to simply have faith in his men. There were brave soldiers leading the APCs; some included the likes of Isa, Ramlee, and Ilyas. They were going to Bakara Market, not knowing that there was only one way in and one way out. They were going to be trapped, not knowing that the Rebels were hiding in buildings with bullets and bazookas to last a fortnight. A Black Hawk, the American chopper, had arrived to assist, but the bazookas were being aimed at it as well. A Black Hawk had already gone down, so there was no question of another chopper arriving soon. It was too dangerous, and the problem on the ground seemed to be that the American soldiers were getting jittery and leaving the APCs, which were actually saving them from imminent death.
Why did Ramlee save Abdul?
There was a cohort managing ‘Objective A’ at one end of the market, and Isa had taken the APC completing Objective B too far into Rebel territory. They had been shot at countless times, but the APC was made to withstand such attacks. What it wasn’t built for was to withstand five bazookas. Isa’s APC was at such an angle that it was a sitting duck for the Rebels. They fired all five of their bazookas at it, and the hull of the APC gave in, and Isa was killed. He had followed the instructions and driven the APC into an area that was the only lane ahead. This was part of ‘Objective B’ and it was failing. The team in Objective A had left the APCs and were following Ramlee, who was hiding in Abdul’s place.
Abdul was a local Somalian who had acted as an interpreter earlier. He was a good man who had a gun to protect his family. The American soldiers, however, saw him as a threat, and things escalated in his house. It was because of Ramlee’s compassion that Abdul and his family survived. He was already under constant threat that he would be killed by the Rebels, and now he was sheltering the ‘enemy’. Ramlee understood his pain and asked the Americans to trust him. Abdul wasn’t rewarded for his help, though.
Dawn was approaching, and Abdul and the soldiers kept getting hounded by the Rebels. They had to go out into the open, and it was their good luck that a Black Hawk arrived and attacked the Rebels, who had occupied the rooftops of buildings. It was a definite risk, but it had to be taken. The American soldiers were rescued safely, but Abdul’s family was killed. Abdul was unwilling to leave the family that lay dead beside him, but Ramlee couldn’t see him die. He convinced Abdul that he wasn’t there to ‘save’ his country, but he had to save Abdul, as he was like his brother. The Rebels were killing innocents, but Ramlee did not see all Somalians as a threat. He knew Abdul was an innocent man; hence, it was his duty to protect him.
During Malbatt: Misi Bakara‘s ending, the Bakara mission was a success, but the trauma everyone suffered was never recorded. Isa lost his life, and many were injured, yet it was a success. The real success, however, was that humanity was still alive, as Ramlee didn’t leave Abdul to die. This was the story of the unsung Malbatt, who volunteered for the rescue mission and did it successfully.