Today I ride with special forces on those wily Afghan horses
Dostum’s Northern Alliance give their thanks
And no matter defeat or victory, in battle it occurs to me
That we may see a swelling in our ranks
— Corb Lund, “Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!”
The story of the Special Forces warriors who were part of the initial American response in Afghanistan to the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attack on the United States is coming to the big screen in January 2018.
12 Strong, based on the bestselling book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, tells the real-life story of the U.S. Special Forces team that was sent into Afghanistan directly following the events of 9/11 to fight the Taliban. Their mission? To take the strategically important city of city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The 12 men could not have done so without the help of the Northern Alliance, including the controversial General Dostum … an Afghan politician and former warlord who is currently the Vice President of Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance knew the region much better than the American soldiers, training them in the tactics that worked best in the mountainous terrain.
From reporting by Den of Geek, it seems that the makers of 12 Strong are at pains to emphasize the role of the Afghan people in the struggle against the Taliban. Fair enough. I will be most interested to see how they handle their portrayal of Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek who was a pro-communist fighter in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation, and became one of several commanders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance after the civil war that followed Soviet withdrawal.
Dostum was a key player in that early assault on his old enemy, the Taliban.
It should probably go without saying that one does not achieve warlord status in Afghanistan through good manners, sweet reason and flights of rhetorical persuasion. It’s a gig only the most ruthless can sustain. Dostum, who has clawed his way to the top of a heap of skulls in Afghanistan politics, ain’t exactly cuddly.
Dostum’s forces allegedly intentionally suffocated hundreds (some say thousands) of Taliban prisoners in container trucks in the Dasht-i-Leili massacre. That’s only the most extreme of the accusations of various human rights abuses laid at Dostum’s feet. He issued an apology (of sorts) in 2013 when he entered electoral politics, but I doubt he regrets a single bone crushed or head lopped off.
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating – you can’t fight a dirty war without getting dirty, and you can’t expect to find noble allies in a place like Afghanistan. I mean, even the martyred Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was probably the best man on the scene, was plenty ruthless.
Personally, I tend to think we’re better off anyway blowing shit up, handing the reins to some badass warlord and leaving than we are investing years and billions of dollars and the lives of thousands of Americans in fruitless nation-building efforts that end up in the same spot anyway.
At any rate, I will certainly be in the theater to take in this tale of retro-Frontier Partisan warfare in the long-ago days of 2001.