12 Strong: Afghan Bolani (Potato Stuffed Flat Bread) Recipe

Year Released: 2018
Directed by: Nicolai Fugisig 
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Navid Negahban
(R, 130 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Drama

“The only way home is winning.”  Captain Mitch Nelson

Remember that crazy scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is chasing down a truck on horseback?  Well, in this film, the horse soldiers aren’t after a mere truck.  They are facing tanks, heavy weapons, and rocket launchers at a full gallop.

And this amazing scene really did happen sixteen years ago in Afghanistan.  Only now, we get to see it upfront and personal on the big screen and it’s the real stuff, too, not the CGI junk that mars most action films now.

Like most of my favorite films of the last several years, 12 Strong is based on reality.  That way the “film genius” screenwriters have some curb on their overactive and downright ridiculous imaginations, as evidenced in the The Shape of Water, a film about a mute cleaning woman falling in love with a Black Lagoon type creature.  Oscar quality that, right?

12 Strong is also an antidote to all the screeching about “toxic masculinity” emanating from our college campuses recently.  The only ones on the receiving end of toxic masculinity in this film are the Taliban, who routinely execute female teachers who try to educate young girls.

Some complain that the film is not nuanced enough.  Yes, nuance; that’s a favorite word from the critics lately. As though these horse soldiers have the time for nuance as they gallop into tanks and hot rockets.  To demand nuance here is as absurd as demanding a car chase in The Post, the recent Oscar nominated film about the release of the Pentagon papers.

Yet, in its own way 12 Strong is nuanced, especially in the interaction of the Green Beret Captain Nelson (Chris Helmsworth) and the Afghan warlord he is matched up with in this first American military response to the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.

Most of this nuance in their relationship stems from Captain Nelson’s lack of experience.  His team has trained extensively in the Middle East, but the captain himself has never seen battle.  Yet his frank assessment of their mission – that it would have to occur in three weeks rather than the allotted six because of the oncoming winter – convinces his commander to choose Nelson’s team.

In Afghanistan, however, the warlord, General Dostrum (Navid Negahban), walks right past the young captain, dismissing rank and protocol, and looks to Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), his second in command, who is both older and battle hardened with “killer eyes,” according to the general.

Captain Nelson is not about to endure this disrespect, and risks angering the prickly and unpredictable general by insisting that he is the one Dostrum must address.  The general then decides to give Nelson a chance.

General Dostum: Why these men follow you?

Captain Mitch Nelson: Take me to the Taliban, I’ll show you.

General Dostum: Okay. We take horses.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Captain Nelson, having been raised on a ranch, is the only one of his men who can handle a horse, but they saddle up anyway and plunge into the unknown.

General Dostum is not too impressed with large American bombers Nelson can command to help them. 

You have the sky but wars are won in the dirt.

Explaining raw courage of his men, who are “warriors” not soldiers, General Dostrum explains, “You live where your life looks better than your after-life.  For them the after-life looks better than their life.”

Before long the general and the Green Berets are facing a horde of Taliban and Al Qaeda forces, causing Dostrum to remark, “Fifty thousand Al Qaeda fighters, and you’re just an army of twelve.”

But one of Nelson’s men has right response:

Out-numbered 5000-to-1.  That’s a target rich environment.

And soon, Captain Nelson and his men prove to be warriors, too, as they realize that the only way to return home is winning.  The final battle, where Nelson leads his men at full gallop through a nest of tanks with their large caliber high velocity guns is breathtaking.  But those tanks are merely buzzing flies to his men, who seek instead the huge rocket launcher spitting out devastation all around them. 

General Dostum nods at Nelson and pats his hand against his chest, the greatest weapon in history, a warrior’s heart.

Because of security concerns, these horse soldiers returned home with no acknowledgement of their great courage.  Their names could not be revealed for many years.  However, these quiet warriors did what they did, not for fame and glory, but for the love of country.  They represent many other quiet unsung heroes out there still risking all for the rest of us.

We salute them.

–Kathy Borich


Film-Loving Foodie

Captain Nelson and his fellow Green Berets probably survive on their rations, MREs, “Meals Ready to Eat.”  But I bet General Dostrum has some real food.  Here is a recipe for Afghan Bolani, Flat Bread Stuffed with Potatoes.  Maybe he shared some with Captain Nelson, who still is his friend to this day.

Why don’t you cook up some yourself?

Afghan Bolani

For the Dough:

2 cups Whole wheat flour

2 tsp Oil

Water - as needed

to taste Salt

For the Filling:

  • 2 Potato - large, boiled and mashed
  • 4 ~ 5 Scallion - finely chopped
  • 1 ~ 2 Chilies Green - finely chopped (adjust as per taste preference)
  • ¼ cup Cilantro
  • to taste Salt Pepper &

Yogurt-Mint sauce:

  • ½ cup Yogurt - whisked
  • 3 tbsps Mint leaves - finely chopped

Salt to taste


Make the dough: Combine flour, salt and oil in a mixing bowl. Add enough water and knead to form a soft pliable dough. Cover and set aside for at least 15~20 minutes.

Make the Filling: Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl. Mix well.

Make the Bolani: Divide the dough into 6~8 equal size pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece into a thin roti.

Add about 2tbsp of the filling on the bottom half of the roti and fold the other half on it making sure to press the air out. Press and seal the edges using a fork.

Heat 2tbsp oil in a saute pan and cook the bolanis (either 1 or 2, depending on the size of the pan) until golden brown on both sides.

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Serve warm with the minty yogurt sauce.

Yogurt-Mint sauce: Combine all the ingredients for the sauce and keep it refrigerated until ready to use. 

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