55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2009
Mr Stanton has created a fascinating narrative of the exploits of the US Special Forces in what was prewar Afghanistan.
The book title refers to the fact that our US SF needed to mount horses in order to stay with the Northern Alliance tribesmen they were helping to drive out the Taliban. Many of them had never before been on a horse. Really tough duty, especially on makeshift wooden saddles. The SF people are introduced by name, and you are given their bios, leading to the reader becoming intimate with all of them. A most interesting approach to telling the story.
I highly recommend this book.
82 of 89 people found the following review helpful
I was given this book by a friend, so I looked at it and immediately - sat down, started reading and finished it almost one sitting. Horse Soldiers is the impressive story of the US Special Forces team sent into Afghanistan after 9/11 to capture Mazar-I-Sharif. So the first action against terrorists of the 21st century winds up conducted on horse back, more accurately a cavalry charge much like Mosby's raiders during the Civil War. There is action, pathos and even a bit of humor as a group of Special Forces men who had only, for the most part ridden horses in summer camp ride into battle. There was so much that was captivating, I found myself stopping to read passages out loud to my husband.
If I was still teaching current history this would be on the reading list, and I know it would be well received. I will be surprised to not see this book become a movie, its tale is gripping and fascinating. The men in this story will make you proud of our service men, their bravery, courage and at the same time you will be intrigued and awed by the skill and methods of our modern military.
As one who grew up in the army and have always been near those whose hearts and souls are given to protect us - this is a stunning account that reaches the best of a story teller's writing, except this is true and will make those who read it, aware of, and thankful for the skill and bravery that is written of in this book .
66 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2009
Horse Soldiers will take readers from the freezing interior of a high tech Chinook helicopter flying higher than it safely can through the mountains of Afghanistan delivering soldiers to desert gun fights fought on horse back harkening America's old west. It's a modern day Odessy written with a journalist's penchant for detail and Homer's gift for telling a warrior's story.
In the end it is also the harrowing tale of how a small group of American Special Forces and the CIA working with Afghan soldiers managed to defeat the Taliban in one of the world's remotest battlefields.
It's not a book about politics. Stanton sets out to tell what happened, how it happened and who it happened to. He does this with startling attention to detail and a an objective overview of U.S. Military actions.
At one point American bombers can't seem to hit a target whether the bombs are guided by Global Positioning System coordinates or LASERs. Near the end of the book they drop a bomb on some of their own men.
But it is Stanton's ability to weave a story that brings the book alive and takes readers to places they would rather not be to hear things they would rather not hear and to see things they would rather not see and to smell things they would rather not smell.
The story is told in a narrative fashion sometimes switching between Afghan battle and a spouse battling her emotions about whether her husband will come back home. And, although this switching back and forth fills in interesting background, it's a technique more akin to screen writing than book writing. It makes it harder for readers to keep track of what's happening to whom.
There are unusual moments as when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld actually calls and asks why the soldiers aren't making enough progress and one of Special Forces officers writes a reply that Rumsfeld reads from during a press conference describing the miserable conditions and bravery of the Afghan fighters.
Stanton writes about the complexity of flying a helicopter under extreme conditions; cold, wind and extreme altitude like this: "You had essentially flown to the dead end of a physics equation."
Stanton relied on more than 100 books, articles and web sites and an equal number of interviews in writing this well documented book. He also traveled to Afghanistan to flesh out details and to see the fort where one of the major battles took place.
The book appeals to general readers seeking a good story well told as well as to those with an interest in history and the military. It also is a testament to the effectiveness of soldier-philiosphers who can outthink their enemies and think with their allies before they start shooting.
93 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2009
The story of 5th Group and the Northern Alliance is outstanding, but being a 20+ year veteran of Special Forces I was greatly disappointed in the research. After reading that Roger's Rangers fought against the British in the Revolutionary War as opposed to fighting with the British against the French in the French and Indian War I was amazed at such a historical error. Claiming Special Forces committed the majority of attrocities in Vietnam is just false. The story is good, the writing mediocre, and the research horrible.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2009
Doug Stanton's new book "The Horse Soldiers" is an engrossing read. Stanton not only vividly brings the reader right into the middle of the firefights and paradoxical scenes of U.S. Special Forces soldiers calling in smart bomb airstrikes from horseback, but also the tender, heart-wrenching personal stories of their wives awaiting their safe return. The success of this small group of men in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11, should be the model for future U.S. involvement in these types of actions. He gives these "Quiet Professionals" their due and rightful place as modern heroes, not only of military action and sacrifice, but as diplomats who think first and shoot only as a last resort. "The Horse Soldiers" should be issued to every Cabinet member of the Obama Administration as required reading for understanding the complexities of one the world's oldest political focal points and a blueprint on how to curtail the Taliban's reemergence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2011
This was an amazing story of the US Special Forces invasion of Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11. However Stanton's telling of it leaves so much to be desired, this book was more frustrating than enjoyable.
The great number of factual errors are striking and jarring. The book has a number of ambiguous sentences (did he have an editor?).
Most of the key points in the gun fights are entirely left out. Why did SOF send Afghans to storm a bunker shortly before SOF called an airstrike in on it? Dunno. How did SOF and the Afghans contain the Taliban in the Fort the first night after the riot? We are told this is absolutely vital issue, but are never given the answer.
Following many differnt groups of SOF, makes it hard to emotionally connect to any of the individual soldiers, and interferres with the flow of the story, making it feel jumpy
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2010
I must comfess that I found the story compelling enough to make it a top priority to read to the end. The story is terrific. But it could have been so much better if the literary side had been executed better. My two major complaints are (1) as others have pointed out, it has "asides" that are just factually wrong (e.g. the "Band of Brothers" was a company from the 82nd airborne). If one wants to include the aside, then get it right. Otherwise it's a distraction. The second complaint is that the narrative follows a very large number of persons and seems to jump around in ways that distract from the story.
In spite of the flaws, I have bought and given it to friends.
22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2009
Doug Stanton was born in the Reed City Public Library. In fact I have heard him say this. Of course at the time it was the Reed City Hospital, but it still makes a great opening line for a review of Doug's newest book, HORSE SOLDIERS, recently released by Scribner. Because Stanton writes like he was born to it. Here is history that reads like the best fiction of the action-adventure type.
Now a resident of Traverse City where he grew up, Doug is a product of the Interlochen Arts Academy and the Iowa Writer's Workshop. His first book, IN HARM'S WAY (2001), was an international bestseller. After reading HORSE SOLDIERS, I strongly suspect it will enjoy similar success.
The subtitle of Stanton's new book may be problematic for some. It reads: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. And, in a nutshell, it's a good description of the book's content. Because the soldiers described in these pages are indeed extraordinary people who deserve to be recognized. The problem for some more politically oriented readers, however, will be the word "victory." They will argue that the U.S. has not achieved victory in Afghanistan and probably never will.
But this is not a book about politics. This is a book about ordinary people, military men and officers, who have trained hard and dedicated their lives to safeguarding the security of our nation, both here and abroad. They are not political people. They were given a mission, and they carried it out to the best of their abilities, despite extreme hardships and unbelievably primitive conditions. They suffered hunger, thirst, cold, exhaustion, sickness and wounds incurred in battle. Against what appeared to be insurmountable odds, these Special Forces soldiers and Special Ops pilots (and a few CIA paramilitaries) persevered and were indeed successful in carrying out their mission, the taking of the town of Mazar-e-Sharif from the Taliban forces. Working in concert with the combined forces of several Afghan warlords of the Northern Alliance, the SF teams lived in caves or in the open, and ate what their Afghan allies ate - often little or nothing. They traveled on horseback, even though many of them had never been on a horse before. This initially prompted some rather comical scenes reminiscent of episodes from F Troop. But despite the too-small wooden saddles, too-short stirrups, and bleeding sores, they quickly adapted. And once mounted, these few dozen courageous soldiers became the first Americans of the twenty-first century to participate in a cavalry charge, racing up and down ridges against vastly superior Taliban forces as they marched steadily north to their objective of Mazar-e-Sharif. In a strange combination of spaghetti western and Star Wars, the Americans, packing radios, GPS devices and laser sights, called in gunships and pinpointed bomb strikes to put the fear of Allah into their numerically superior black-turbaned enemies.
The story told here covers no more than a couple of months' time shortly after the 9/11 bombings of New York. But, sticking to the style that earned him such success in his first book, Stanton fleshes out the narrative with personal details on all the principals involved, having interviewed the men, their friends, families and superior officers. He was able to do this by gaining unprecedented access to the lives of soldiers who are ordinarily very silent about their activities. Stanton logged literally thousands of miles of travel in the six years he spent researching his story, not just here in the U.S., but also in Afghanistan, where he interviewed some of the warlords involved in the operation, as well as various citizens and shopkeepers of Mazar-e-Sharif, the town liberated from the Taliban in November 2001. You will meet men - and their families - from Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota, West Virginia, California, Kansas, Texas and Michigan. Any one of them could be your neighbor.
The story reaches a horrific climax in the closing chapters when several hundred Taliban prisoners being held in the ancient mud fortress of Qala-i-Janghi rise up and attack their Northern Alliance jailers, and the SF soldiers are caught in the middle of the ensuing siege and resulting bloodbath.
I am sure HORSE SOLDIERS will have its detractors, people who will argue that invading Afghanistan was not the proper response to the 9/11 attacks. And I would not completely disagree with them. And perhaps neither would Doug Stanton, judging by his epilogue critique of the war as it has been waged since 2001. Stanton's intent, however, was not to justify the war, but to honor the men who followed orders and prepared the way, at great cost to them and to their families. In this he has succeeded admirably.
Here is how Stanton explains his motives, at least in part, for writing this book about a period of just a few weeks which may one day be no more than a blip on history's radar -
"... I wanted to know what it was like to wake in the predawn hours on a tree-lined street in the middle of America and leave for war ... Children's toys fill the cracked driveways of the neighbors' houses up and down the street ... This was the face I wanted to see ... the face of that man, in those private hours."
Stanton found that man - those men - who left for war, and he is Everyman. Yet he is unique, apart. And we owe him.
- Tim Bazzett is the author of the Cold War memoir, Soldier Boy: At Play in the ASA. He lives in Reed City, MI.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Doug Stanton, New York Times bestselling author of In Harm's Way wrote this spellbinding history of the early American war efforts in Afghanistan. The book reads like a well-written novel.
When the terrorists struck New York and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the United States was not prepared for a retaliatory war or even adequate preventive measures to protect US citizens. President Bush declared war on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan the next day, on September 12. But the military had no contingency plan for war in Afghanistan, and certainly did not have soldiers who knew how to fight a war riding on horses, the way the Afghans fought, or even men or women that spoke the Afghan language.
One would think that the US could draw a strategy from the Russian experience, but this was not possible because the Russians failed. The Russians had fought in Afghanistan for ten years, from 1979. They introduced a fighting force of a half million men into the country, and lost fifty thousand of them. In fact, historians write that their defeat was one of the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The US was involved in the Russian war. The Americans backed the anti-Soviet forces called the mujahideen. The US turned a blind eye to their extremist religious views and supplied them with sophisticated weapons.
But then the Taliban rose from the ranks of the mujahideen, well armed and well trained, as an enemy of the US and of civilization.
The Taliban, who followed an extreme version of the Sunni religion, were religious zealots determined to turn back civilization to the fourteenth century, to an ancient generally imagined time that they considered the golden age, when people were ruled by the stringent dictates of Islamic law.
The name Taliban is ironically built on the Arabic talib, meaning "student" or "seeker of knowledge." These seekers of knowledge felt a religious obligation to slit the throats of non-believers, castrate them and leave their bodies to rot in the road.
They insisted that husbands paint their windows black so that no one could see the women within. They forbid women from leaving their homes without a male family escort. These seekers of knowledge forbid over 100,000 girls to attend school and the literacy rate in the country slipped precipitously to only five percent. Women, in short, were to be as pliant as cattle and as silent as stone, a thing, barely human.
The initial US reaction was to bomb the Taliban enclaves, but the bombs generally hit nothing, and the Taliban laughed at America. The US only began to have an effect upon the Taliban when they sent a unit of twelve Special Forces soldiers to fight against them in Afghanistan itself. The Taliban's enemy was a group of Afghans called the Northern Alliance. The mission of the twelve was to join with and fight with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban.
The Special Forces was founded in 1952. Its soldiers were trained in guerrilla warfare. They wore a cap with an insignia of a red arrowhead with an arrow drawn down the middle, the sign of American Apache Indian scouts.
The regular Army generals were opposed to using Special Forces troops aided by some CIA officers as America's lead element in the war. They had never used Special Forces in this way before. However, President Bush approved the plan to use them.
Their mission was to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan and to find Osama bin Laden and his senior lieutenants and kill them; specifically, to bring back bin Laden's head to Washington, shipped in a box of dry ice.
People who want to read what happened when the US first came to Afghanistan, the many problems they faced and what occurred to the dozen Special Forces soldiers, that is told as well and as interesting as a very good novel, will want to read this book.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2009
The book is an easy read and should be read, if only to remind ourselves that a very real, bloody, intense war was fought in Afghanistan--a war very much at the forefront of the fight against Islamic jihadists, yet cast into media shadows by the contemporaneous conflict in Iraq. But the book suffers from layman's mistakes--such as denoting a C-130 as a "jet" (it's a turboprop); referring to an AC-130 as a tanker when the proper designation is KC-130 (AC is the Spectre gunship version). Minor errors that are there because the book is written by a reporter who learned about the war, not a soldier who fought the war.
And that is the real weakness--it reads like a hastily crafted, ghost-written memoir--Stanton certainly did a good job interviewing, collating, and reporting the information, but he never really gets inside a soldier's head. Too, the proofreading failed in places--such as two virtually identical sentences ("he thought he was sneaking successfully through Taliban country") repeated within a few lines of each other. Similarly, the level of detail varies wildly, with some relatively minor firefights being detailed almost round-for-round, while another epic collision of major forces are reported in barely a sentence. All this reflects the reporter's craft-and the shortcoming of a military book written about soldiers, not by soldiers.
And I longed for some insight that a military historian would have brought to the narrative--maps of the campaigns would have been enormously informative, and organization charts would have helped visualize where the Special Forces troops played into the Afghani structure.
In sum...yes, it should be read; the Americans who went to war on an hour's notice should be recognized and remembered for being some of the best, bravest, and at the very forefront of destroying much of the enemy's might. But they deserve a better book....