I am advising a man on how to best employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against Taliban T-55s, mortars, artillery, personnel carriers, and machine guns – a tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the Gatling gun. [The mujahideen] have done this every day we have been on the ground. They have attacked with 10 rounds of ammunition per man, with snipers having less than 100 rounds – little water and less food. I have observed a PK gunner who walked 10-plus miles to get to the fight, who was proud to show me his artificial leg from the knee down. We have witnessed the horse cavalry bounding overwatch from spur to spur to attack Taliban strongpoints – the last several kilometers under mortar, artillery, and sniper fire. There is little medical care if injured, only a donkey ride to the aid station, which is a dirt hut. I think [the mujahideen] are doing very well with what they have. We could not do what we are doing without the close air support – everywhere I go the civilians and mujahideen soldiers are always telling me they are glad the U.S.A. has come. They all speak of their hopes for a better Afghanistan once the Taliban are gone.
— Special Forces ODA (A-Team) 595 Commander, Captain Mitch Nelson, October 21, 2001
The initial battlefield plan, proposed in the wake of 9/11, called for a conventional force to invade Afghanistan with 60,000 troops. Due to weather and mobilization constraints, it would take six months. The Secretary of Defense rejected it, saying “I want men on the ground now!” The immediate solution became a few dozen Army Special Forces, aka Green Berets. Senior military commanders hoped, at best, that they would be able to buy time until the larger forces could mobilize in the Spring. But the Green Berets’ plan was textbook unconventional warfare: they would link up with the Northern Alliance, build rapport, and work by, with, and through them to defeat the Taliban. This included unconventional tactics, such as the first cavalry charge of the twenty-first century, and significant and unprecedented support from the US Air Force in the sky. It worked. Two months later, in the boneyard of the Soviet Empire, a new President was sworn in in Afghanistan. ‘Humans are more important than hardware’ is a maxim in Special Forces and this event highlights, in the historical context of the Horse Soldiers (portrayed in the movie 12 Strong), how true that was, is, and will always be. At your Horse Soldier GORUCK Challenge, expect to learn how a small, unconventional team can work together to accomplish big things while paying homage to this quintessential Special Forces mission. De Oppresso Liber.
This Tough is part of the 9/11 + Horse Soldier Double Tough Series. Participants that complete both Tough events will earn the coveted 9/11 + Horse Soldier Double Tough Patch.
Cadre Barbarossa takes his nom de guerre from his distinctive red beard. He retired out of the 5th Special Forces Group after 21 years of service, having spent time all throughout the Middle East. He currently lives in Savannah, GA with his family.