“Horse Soldiers”—Book Review, War Review
I just finished reading a fantastic and timely book.
Fantastic because of how the writer, Doug Stanton, brilliantly and in gritty, sometimes grisly detail describes the unprecedented actions of a band of American Special Forces heroes who rode into Afghanistan after 9/11 during the opening days of what is now the Afghanistan War.
Timely, not necessarily because of what these magnificent men did on horseback in the mountains and the valleys of Afghanistan eight years ago, but because of the almost prophetic words the author writes in his epilogue to the New York Times best seller, “Horse Soldiers—The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan.”
There have been so many superb reviews of this book—a book that has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for many weeks—that another review, especially by an amateur, seems redundant.
Let me quote a few words from someone who is not an amateur, especially when it comes to the subject of the book: U.S. Army (Retired) Major General Geoffrey C. Lambert, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special forces Command (Airborne), during the period and the battles covered by the book. Lambert has this to say:
Doug Stanton’s Horse Soldiers is the story of the first large American unconventional warfare operation since World War II. My Green Berets were launched deep into enemy territory to befriend, recruit, equip, advise, and lead their Afghan counterparts to attack the Taliban. The Horse Soldiers succeeded brilliantly with a highly decentralized campaign, reinforced with modern airpower’s precision weapons, forcing the Taliban government’s collapse in a few months. Doug Stanton captures the gritty realities of the campaign as no other can.
Please also read the excellent Times’ May 17 review of this book.
My humble review: Buy, borrow or somehow get a hold of this book and be ready to ride on horseback with these brave men alongside General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance and thousands of rag-tag Afghans, through deadly torrents of gunfire, treacherous minefields and dangerously close to exploding 5,000 pound, sometimes-not-so-precision bombs dropped by our invisible aircraft from 20,000 feet or higher. But, most of all, be ready to witness first-hand how a handful of American troops achieved stunning victories over the Taliban and put the Northern Alliance in control.
As these special men (350 Special Forces soldiers and 100 C.I.A. officers) were leaving, however, things took a turn for the worse and the achievements of the Horse Soldiers were practically erased when the Bush administration took its eye off Afghanistan to launch its disastrous war in Iraq.
This brings me to Stanton’s epilogue to his book.
In it, Stanton praises the kind of warfare that the Horse Soldiers fought in Afghanistan, alongside their Afghan counterparts, in contrast to what we did in Iraq when Bremer “fired” the Iraq National Army, and brings us up-to-date in Afghanistan—up to early 2009:
At present, in early 2009, the Taliban once again control large portions of Afghanistan and to subdue them, the U.S. government has promised to commit greater forces in the entire country. At the same time, Pakistan is becoming less politically stable…the clock is ticking.
Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, the saying goes, is really just the mayor of Kabul.
Yes, the clock is ticking. No one knows what the next few minutes, hours and days will bring us in Afghanistan. As Bruce Barcott concludes in his Times book review:
What haunts “Horse Soldiers,” though, are the events that came later. The early success of the Special Forces teams in Afghanistan, through no fault of the soldiers, bolstered Rumsfeld’s case for going to war light on ground troops. With Afghanistan seemingly secured, the Bush administration turned its attention to an ill-conceived and undermanned invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan foundered.
Today the Rumsfeld doctrine lies in tatters, while the achievement of the horse soldiers stands on its own. The book tells a story without an ending.
It celebrates the heroic bravery of the men who were there when the war began. Whether that war will end with similar glory is a thing still very much in doubt.
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