The inspiration for the major motion picture 12 Strong from Jerry Bruckheimer, starring Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon.
From the New York Times bestselling author of In Harm’s Way comes a true-life story of American soldiers overcoming great odds to achieve a stunning military victory.
Horse Soldiers is the dramatic account of a small band of Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan following 9/11 and rode to war on horses against the Taliban. Outnumbered forty to one, they pursued the enemy army across the mountainous Afghanistan terrain and, after a series of intense battles, captured the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which was strategically essential to defeat their opponent throughout the country.
The bone-weary American soldiers were welcomed as liberators as they rode into the city, and the streets thronged with Afghans overjoyed that the Taliban regime had been overthrown.
Then the action took a wholly unexpected turn. During a surrender of six hundred Taliban troops, the Horse Soldiers were ambushed by the would-be POWs. Dangerously overpowered, they fought for their lives in the city’s immense fortress, Qala-i-Janghi, or the House of War. At risk were the military gains of the entire campaign: if the soldiers perished or were captured, the entire effort to outmaneuver the Taliban was likely doomed.
Deeply researched and beautifully written, Stanton’s account of the Americans’ quest to liberate an oppressed people touches the mythic. The soldiers on horses combined ancient strategies of cavalry warfare with twenty-first-century aerial bombardment technology to perform a seemingly impossible feat. Moreover, their careful effort to win the hearts of local townspeople proved a valuable lesson for America’s ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.
1. Were you surprised to learn of America’s secret effort to attack the Taliban in the fall of 2001, or did you already know about it? How advisable was this plan? Does knowing about the success of this campaign change your understanding of America’s war in Iraq, which followed?
2. As Doug Stanton shows, the American soldiers preparing for their mission to Afghanistan were yanked out of their lives and family relationships to go to war. How did you respond to his portrayal of the men and women involved? Did this exposition add to the power of the story, or were you impatient for the action to begin? Why? Do you know anyone who served in this or another comparable conflict, and was his or her experience similar?
3. Doug Stanton felt that the soldiers’ efforts to get into Afghanistan by flying Chinook helicopters over 14,000 ft. mountain peaks was an important part of the story. Do you agree? Did you enjoy knowing what the men went through just get to the battle zone?
4. There are a number of key American soldiers in this story. Which ones were your favorites, and why? Were you interested in their relationships with the Northern Alliance soldiers? Did you trust the Northern Alliance soldiers? Why? How about the Northern Alliance generals?
5. This book shows the relationship between a theoretical military strategy, designed by American generals, and its on-the-ground implementation in real-time conditions. How did well were the soldiers able to fight according to plan? What was your reaction to the combination of horses, conventional arms, and high-tech laser bombing? How did you respond to some of the graphic description of war’s carnage? How would the book be different if it didn’t include such description?
6. The military action in Horse Soldiers is divided between the battle to secure the city of Mazar-i-Sharif and then the defense of the surprise attack in the fortress of Qala-i-Janghi. How do these two actions relate to one another? Did you prefer one over the other, and why?
7. Horse Soldiers was written by reconstructing the points of view of its participants. Did you enjoy the novelistic technique used? How sympathetic were you, or not, to the portrayal of John Walker Lindh, the American man from California who joined the Taliban and who was discovered in the group of Taliban prisoners by the soldiers?
8. Although the soldiers bravely retake the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, they are soon dispersed, most never to see each other again. What did you learn about the relationships between soldiers in a time of war?
9. America’s involvement in Afghanistan changed a great deal in the time after the actions described in this book. Have you followed them? Did the story told in this book affect your perception about the advisability of American involvement in Afghanistan subsequently and in the current day?
10. Doug Stanton worked hard to create an afterword that would put the book in the context of the present time. If you read this afterword, did it add useful perception to your understanding? Or did you mostly like the book for the “war story” that it was? What does this mean about how you read about war, and why?
Doug Stanton is the author of the New York Times bestsellers In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors and Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, which is the basis for a Jerry Bruckheimer–produced movie by the same name, starring Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon, to be released by Warner Bros. in 2018. He attended Hampshire College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Time, The Washington Post, Men’s Journal, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Esquire, and Outside, where he has been a contributing editor. Stanton is a founder of the National Writers Series, a year-round book festival, and lives in his hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, with his wife, Anne Stanton, and their three children, John, Katherine, and Will.
"Doug Stanton's Horse Soldiers is as gripping as the most intricately plotted thriller. It is a masterwork of stunning military action, brilliant in-depth journalism, and powerful storytelling. Finally Americans can know how just a few dozen courageous U.S. soldiers beat the Taliban under the most extreme and dangerous conditions imaginable. I could not put this book down." -- Vince Flynn
"Horse Soldiers is a great read -- a riveting story of the brave and resourceful American warriors who rode into Afghanistan after 9/11 and waged war against Al Qaeda. We're hearing many of these stories for the first time -- and from those who waged a war worthy of Rudyard Kipling, James Bond, and Davy Crockett." -- Tom Brokaw
"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." -- Geoffrey C. Lambert, major general (retired), U.S. Army, and commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne), 2001-2003
"Not just an epic war story, Horse Soldiers is a beautifully written, intimate portrait of the men and women who lived the battle on the fields of fire -- and at home, too. Their secret mission against the Taliban was intelligent, brave, and undertaken with great care for the good people of Afghanistan. Doug Stanton's superb account is an invaluable insight for policy makers and the public for years to come." -- Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea
"In the spirit of Black Hawk Down and Flags of Our Fathers, Doug Stanton plunges into the heart of a single mission and returns with a stark understanding not only of what happened but what was truly at stake. Through precise reportage and hauntingly rendered battle scenes, Stanton shows that we may ignore this 'forgotten' theater only at our own peril." -- Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder
"Spellbinding...action packed prose. [Stanton's] gritty narrative is thoroughly researched and the details of military operations jarringly precise...The book reads more like a novel than a military history...the Horse Soldier's secret mission remains the U.S. military's finest moment in what has since arguably been a muddled war." -- USA Today
"Stanton packs a huge amount of research into a thrilling action-ride of a book... deserves a hallowed place in American military history...." -- Bruce Barcott, cover of The New York Times Book Review
"Horse Soldiers reads like a cross between an old-fashioned Western and a modern spy thriller." -- Parade Magazine
"Stanton has captured the inner workings of... Special Forces operations. A thorough recounting of the events told from the soldiers' point of view." -- Veritas, Journal of Special Operations History