May 16, 2009

WAR THE RUMMY WAY:

Special Forces : a review of HORSE SOLDIERS: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan By Doug Stanton (BRUCE BARCOTT, NY Times Book Review)

The heroes of “Horse Soldiers” are members of the Army’s Fifth Special Forces Group based in Fort Campbell, Ky., an elite corps trained to be both guerrilla fighters and wartime diplomats. In the weeks after 9/11, Fifth Group soldiers scrambled to prepare for the coming war in Afghanistan. Intelligence on the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Northern Alliance was so thin that the men resorted to old Discovery Channel shows and back issues of National Geographic. There wasn’t time to requisition supplies through the Army, so they scooped up tents at REI, ordered fleece jackets direct from the North Face and bought every Garmin eTrex GPS unit they could find.

As the soldiers stocked their kits, C.I.A. paramilitary officers slipped into northern Afghanistan and met with local warlords who, when they weren’t feuding among themselves, came together as a loosely knit anti-Taliban coalition known as the Northern Alliance. A deal was struck: a small number of Special Forces soldiers would fight alongside the Alliance, calling in precision smart-bomb airstrikes on Taliban positions.

There was only one problem. Nobody told the Special Forces guys about the horses. Northern Alliance soldiers traveled and fought on horseback, which was why they hadn’t had much success against the Taliban, who fought with heavy artillery, including anti-aircraft guns that when pointed groundward proved exceptionally effective at cutting men and horses in half. Upon being dropped in country, Special Forces Capt. Mitch Nelson climbed in the saddle and gave his men an impromptu lesson:

“ ‘Listen up,’ Nelson croaked. ‘Here’s how you make this thing go.’ He heeled the horse in the ribs and it walked a few steps. ‘And here’s how you turn,’ he said, pulling a rein and drawing the narrow muzzle around. ‘And here’s how you stop.’ He pulled back the reins and sat looking at the guys. ‘Got it?’ ”


Posted by Orrin Judd at May 16, 2009 5:31 PM
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