Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton

In the past, much ink has been spilled on the War in Iraq, but not nearly as much on the War in Afghanistan.  This is beginning to change with more books coming out on Afghanistan.  One of the newest, Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, is about the role American Special Forces played in the initial stages of the war.

Here is a description of the book from it’s publisher:

horse-soldiersHorse 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 across mountainous terrain and, after a series of intense battles, captured the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which was strategically essential if they were to defeat the Taliban.

The bone-weary American soldiers were welcomed as liberators, and overjoyed Afghans thronged the streets. Then the action took a wholly unexpected turn. During a surrender of six hundred Taliban troops, the Horse Soldiers were ambushed. Dangerously outnumbered, 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 effort to defeat the Taliban might be doomed.

As the Americans struggled to hold the fortress, they faced some of the most intense urban warfare of our time. But until now the full story of the Horse Soldiers has never been told. Doug Stanton received unprecedented cooperation from the U.S. Army’s Special Forces soldiers and Special Operations helicopter pilots, as well as access to voluminous after-battle reports. In addition, he interviewed more than one hundred participants and walked every inch of the climactic battleground.

This exciting story is filled with unforgettable characters: brave Special Forces soldiers, tough CIA operatives, cunning Afghan warlords, anxious stateside soldiers’ wives who do not know where their husbands have gone, and humble Afghan boys spying on the Taliban.

Deeply researched and beautifully written, Stanton’s account of America’s quest to liberate an oppressed people touches the mythic. The Horse Soldiers 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 and avoid civilian casualties proved a valuable lesson for America’s ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.

Horse Soldiers is a big-hearted and thrilling read, with an epic story that reaches not just across the cold mountains of Afghanistan but into the homes of small-town America, and confirms Doug Stanton as one of our country’s preeminent storytellers.

Stanton writes a fascinating tale about a little known group of American warriors –  men who are trained to use their brains first and their firepower second.  Stanton captures their spirit by taking the reader alongside their harrowing adventure.

There is no doubting that Stanton did his research.  His writing is supported by primary (interviews) and secondary sources (reports and other writings).  The direct connection to the participants is seen in his writing.  He is able to capture the minute details of the events – such as the extreme cold that the men felt during the helicopter insertion and the doubts they had going into the fight.

This is a very well-written book.  Stanton knows how to tell a great story.  He keeps the reader engaged throughout the book.  Most of the time, it is easy to follow along with the unfolding of the action.  I say most of the time because there are a few times where his writing is awkward – when he describes what a certain soldier is doing he switches to describing what his wife is doing at that time – this makes it a little hard to follow the action.  As an aside, Stanton should be commended for including, at least in part, the stories of the soldiers’ wives because it allows the reader to understand the sacrifices of the soldiers’ families while they are away.

There are several pages of photographs and a few maps of the general areas that the Special Forces operated in.  However, I think that more maps of the specific locations (at better locations in the book) would have been helpful for the reader to visualize the terrain and structures.

Finally, there is a bit of rah-rah in the story – that the Special Forces can do no wrong and that they are far superior to the regular Army.  I take a little bit of an exception to that because of my experience in the regular Army – not all of us in the regular Army were the smartest or the best fighters, but we certainly were not idiots as some Special Forces stories like to argue.

As a whole, this is a great tribute to the men in our armed forces (specifically the Army Special Forces) with regards to their fighting abilities, intelligence, and diplomacy.


  1. This Vietnam vet found Stanton's book anti military and an insult to my generation. His sympathy is with the enemy. I could not get past his blaming Army Special Forces for alleged atrocities in VIetnam (unsupported accusation). His sympathy for traitors is evident too in the first chapters of his book.

    I could not finish this liberal hype.

    Dale R. Suiter

    1. Thanks for your opinion. I do not remember Stanton ripping on the Special Forces for atrocities in Vietnam. I would agree that he puts a sympathetic spin to John Walker Lindh (he does not deserve sympathy for what he was doing against the U.S. and he knew full well what he was doing – I do not buy that he was too young argument). I still think this is a book that portrays the SF in a positive light.

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