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Horse Soldiers of Afghanistan – Celebration of a book

Posted on: September 4, 2009


Today is Patriot Day.
I don’t wish to let that slip out of of minds, at the same time this post about Horse Soldiers is too important to get knocked off the front page of the blog.

Peace to all the souls that have passed in the great cause that is the USA!

{ This post is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann of the CIA. You do remember Johnny Spann, don’t you? No, you already forgot him? Shame on you! Well, nobody knew his name at first, of course, but he was that odd white man in salwaar-kameez who burst upon our collective consciousness, caught on film by a jerky camera in the hands of a Rashid Dostum militiaman, berating another equally odd white man – this other one pure evil – that was what, seems like an eternity ago.

Johnny Spann, an undercover paramilitary officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, was killed in the Quilai-E-Junghi uprising at Mazar-E-Sharif, Afghanistan, in the line of duty, one of many other unsung heroes. His was the first official death in the war against terrorism since 9-11. An illustrated blog post honoring Spann written by Pfc. David Votroubek can be read at The Tension. Even as the
nation honors Johnny Spann, my pain and outrage at the circumstances and consequences of his death continue unabated.

It is very difficult to get over the fact that while Johnny Spann lay dead, the man most directly and proximately responsible for it had songs written about him. To correct that  egregious error horror, this post, Johnny Spann, is your song. Readers of this blog, you too can help cherish Johhny’s memory.}

No nation can have too many heroes.

No peoples can have too many legends,  nor too much lore of majestic events past.



Such is the need, and indeed duty,  as we approach that sacred day of 9-11. Let’s recall once again the Legend of the Horse Soldiers who represent the numerous known and unsung men and women who died doing heroic deeds on our behalf, for our benefit.

This is the story of the Horse Solders.

Horse Soldiers: The extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. Doug Stanton, Simon & Schuster 2009.

“After three years of Taliban rule, there were old men in Mazar with stumps for hands. There were women who’d been routinely stoned and kicked on street corners. Young men who’d been imprisoned for not wearing beards. Fathers who’d been beaten in front of their sons for the apparent pleasure of those swinging their weapons.

The arrival of Mitchell and his soldiers on horseback had put an end to that. The people of Mazar-i-Sharif, the rugmakers and butchers, the car mechanics and schoolteachers, the bank clerks and masons and farmers, had thrown flowers and kisses and reached up to the Americans on their horses and pulled affectionately at the filthy cuffs of their camo pants. The locals had welcomed the balding, blue-eyed Mitchell and two dozen other Special Forces soldiers in a mile-long parade lining the highway that dropped into town out of the snowy mountains. Mitchell had felt like he was back in World War II, his grandfather’s war, riding into Paris after the Nazis fled.

That was just a brief quote from Horse Soldiers, a much longer excerpt can be read here.

Amzing Men - Awesome Action

Amzing Men - Awesome Action

The above quoted dramatic  portrait  is  just one tiny example out of numerous thrilling accounts of the war in Afghanistan during late  2001, as the US responded to 9-11.

An amazing band of brothers dropped in secretly on to the bleak landscape of the Central Asian wasteland, and in a throwback to times ancient, rode on horseback across sun baked plains to reach select points of enemy strongholds, to kill, destroy and avenge. And in the process, restore a certain hope and peace to a war-torn, savage land.


Prof. Milt Rosenberg of WGN’s Extension-720  interviewed the author, here are links to Milt’s podcasts:

Click For Podcast / Extension 720 - WGN Radio - Chicago

Click For PART ONE of Podcast, Extension 720 - WGN Radio - Chicago

Click for Podcast / Extension 720 - WGN Radio Chicago

Click for PART TWO of podcast, Extension 720 - WGN Radio Chicago

The website Military dot com has a podcast which can be accessed by clicking the image below. Your browser will open a new window with the podcast page.

Podcast  will open in a new page

Podcast will open in a new page

The website of Doug Stanton.

A three minute video of Doug Stanton talking about the book can be seen at the publisher’s page.

Don’t Miss:  In the accompanying audio clip on the same page author Doug Stanton reads the part of the book that describes the chilling scene about  “American Taliban”  John Walker Lindh.

Below is a youtube clip of author Doug Stanton talking to Steve Bertrand, this is a Barnes & Noble production. A good conversation.

Here is Doug Stanton talking about the book at the University Club of Chicago.


…battles were won in ways that Custer would have recognized, by Northern Alliance mujahidin charging Taliban positions in the old style, breaking through before they could be decimated by automatic weapons fire. 21st Century high tech warfare combined with ancient cavalry tactics won the day repeatedly. Horse Soldiers is filled with unforgettable characters, including the special ops soldiers who had to be as much diplomats as well as warriors, forging an army on the march from disparate tribes and warlords. Mark Whittington, Associated Content

If I were Donald Rumsfeld’s son, I’d give him “Horse Soldiers” for Father’s Day. [ ] Stanton packs a huge amount of research into a thrilling action ride of a book. The valor exhibited by Afghan and American soldiers, fighting to free Afghanistan from a horribly cruel regime, will inspire even the most jaded reader. The stunning victory of the horse soldiers — 350 Special Forces soldiers, 100 C.I.A. officers and 15,000 Northern Alliance fighters routing a Taliban army 50,000 strong — deserves a hallowed place in American military history. Bruce Barcott, in New York Times Book Review.

Stanton eschews political posturing and Monday morning quarterbacking in favor of telling a small but important story from the viewpoint of a handful of Special Forces officers and non-commissioned officers who supported the Northern Alliance in October-December 2001. [ ] On the whole, Stanton does a good job telling the story of those early days in Afghanistan and the small number of men who were sent there to carry fire and sword to our enemies. An unfair, but necessary, criticism of Stanton is that unless you have served in a combat arms outfit you really can’t describe the attitudes and interpersonal relationships that exist there. You can’t begin to understand the ambiguity of a professional soldier’s relationship with his wife, his family, indeed any one but his comrades. By ‘Streiff’ at The Right Reads.

Stanton delivers page after page of harrowing descriptions that will make readers feel as if they’re inside the Chinook chopper when it runs into a blinding sandstorm flying at unchartered altitudes over mountains, or as if they’re ear-bleedingly close to the explosions from bombs fighter pilots drop on Taliban strongholds. The book has its unforgettable characters, too, such as intelligence officer Sam Diller, who survived days behind enemy lines calling in airstrikes, and Capt. Mitch Nelson, who embodies the brains and macho toughness of the Special Forces. And there’s shrewd Afghan warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose personality, courage and determination to rid his homeland of the Taliban and foreign al-Qaeda is remarkable. But like war itself, the cast is too large. The front of the book lists five pages of “key players,” and early on, readers will find the who’s who tough going. But as the story progresses toward its bloody climax at Mazar-i-Sharif, the heroes and the villains are easily identifiable. Today, as 17,000 more U.S. troops are being deployed to Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban, the Horse Soldiers’ secret mission remains the U.S. military’s finest moment in what has since arguably been a muddled war.

Don Oldenburg, for USA TODAY

Horse Soldiers provides a poignant recount of what these men in service felt at regular intervals during this special and secretive assignment. For a moving and unforgettable account of these first harrowing months in the war in Afghanistan, after 9/11, Horse Soldiers is a must read. I will forewarn you that these accounts are graphic and tragic. However, each page will reinforce your understanding of the destructive and divisive side of war, as well as, the undying bonds and commitments these men have for their fellow fighters and the people they are challenged to help or salvage from the ravages of Al Qaeda abroad. Michelle Kaye Malsbury @ Book Pleasures.

It’s one of the most iconic images of the war on terror: bearded American soldiers on horseback and native tribesmen charging Taliban positions in Afghanistan. Seven years later, the photo still resonates — partly because it’s such a classic American image, partly because it’s one of the few heroic images of allied soldiers widely disseminated by the mainstream media. In his thrilling new book, Horse Soldiers, bestselling author Doug Stanton for the first time tells the complete story of the two teams of about a dozen Special Forces soldiers and CIA paramilitary operators who defeated the Taliban and sent al Qaeda on the run for the caves of Tora Bora. [ ]Stanton gives Rumsfeld a lot of credit for allowing the Special Forces their latitude; and attributes to George Tenet the idea of quickly putting CIA and SF teams in the field to coordinate targeting with the Air Force. Mitch Nelson, the Army Special Forces captain in charge of the team sent to Afghanistan, coordinated the Air Force’s bombing of targets with the Afghan Northern Alliance. Nelson would prove himself the ultimate example of Rogers’ doctrine of the warrior who is highly trained, highly intelligent and, most importantly, able to adapt to the situation at hand in a bold and decisive manner. [ ] Horse Soldiers also gives lie to the cheap shot taken by liberals that President Bush and Rumsfeld “outsourced” the fight at Tora Bora when it would have been a slam-dunk strategy to send in the Marines. Stanton shows how successful U.S. Special Forces and Afghan fighters were when coupled with air power. There was little reason for the administration to know that the Eastern Alliance would be less effective than the Northern Alliance — though as Dalton Fury, the Delta Force commander at Tora Bora would later reveal, the tactics were extremely effective and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of al Qaeda’s best fighters even though terror mastermind Osama bin Laden escaped. David Forsmark FrontPage Magazine


We as a nation tend to be short on memory, long on forgiveness, and generally more forward looking rather than backward. We tend to be reactive, quick to like or dislike, but slow to change (just look at how we change or don’t change presidents). Already, within less than eight years after 9/11, the pendulum of public opinion has swung wildly. The latest iteration of it being George Will’s call to quit Afghanistan.

What do you think?

Memorial at The Spann Forward Operating Base

Memorial at The Spann Forward Operating Base


2 Responses to "Horse Soldiers of Afghanistan – Celebration of a book"


Horse soldiers in the 21st Century!

Who knew!

Now we all do.

Great post sharmajee.

Yes, Horse Soldiers is a great book, an easy read, and an even greater story.
Thanks for your kind note, it is much appreciated!

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