12 Strong–The Horse Soldiers Movie

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Based on the best-selling book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, 12 Strong is the true story of the first US Army Special Forces team to go into Afghanistan to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda after the 9/11 terrorist attack that brought down the Twin Towers.

 

 

In this dramatization, twelve Green Berets—Task Force Dagger—are ordered to team up with Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance in the mountains of Afghanistan to open the way through hostile, mountainous territory to Mazur-i-Sharif.

Once the team arrives and makes contact, they find they must proceed on horseback. Oh, yeah . . . And they only have three weeks to do it. Real life team leader Captain Mitch Nelson pretty well sums it up in his famous response to an impatient senior officer awaiting a report: “I am advising a man on how to best employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against Taliban T-55s [tanks], mortars, artillery, personnel carriers and machine guns — a tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the Gatling gun.”

A Jerry Bruckheimer production, 12 Strong was filmed in New Mexico in and around Albuquerque as well as in caves south of Alamogordo and on White Sands Missile Range. Chris Hemsworth does a great job as Capt. Mitch Nelson, and he’s backed up with excellent performances from Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, and Navid Negahban, who play Sam Diller, Ben Milo, and General Dostum, respectively. Both the armaments and the social challenges the team met with in the course of their mission are faithfully portrayed. And speaking of those armaments . . . bring earplugs. LOTS of explosions.

12 Strong is an excellent representation of what US Army Special Forces concentrate on and do best.

As the film accurately portrays, Task Force Dagger did a great job of quickly inserting into a hostile area, meeting up with indigenous forces, and gaining their trust enough to work together to influence the strategic situation in Afghanistan. Such missions are the bread and butter of the US Army Special Forces.

 

First Meeting with General Dostum
Scene from 12 Strong

 

We would only make one critique of the film’s portrayal of Task Force Dagger.

The movie shows these Green Berets being a bit out of their element with the primitive conditions they found in Afghanistan. In real life, US Army Special Forces are always careful to never, ever appear to be surprised by anything or challenged by any environment, whether that environment is geographic, climatic, cultural, or tactical domain. They will be careful to appear to be absolute masters of whatever domain they inhabit. In other words, they would smile and play poker with Satan and pretend to enjoy the warm weather if they found themselves on a mission in Hell.

Unlike many war movies, 12 Strong addresses the impact war has on the warriors’ families.

Families also suffer and sacrifice. According to Holmes, the hardest thing in the life of a warrior with a family is how their children pay a cost that was not of their choosing. It’s hard for them to wake up and find out that dad left at 3:00 a.m. Eventually, the kids figure out dad isn’t on a beach in Maui, and it leads to the unavoidable fact that families bleed, too, in their own way.

Attacking on Horseback
Scene from 12 Strong

 

As usual with any movie about military success or heroism on the battlefield, some reviewers who clearly have no experience whatsoever with any battle beyond fighting with their lovers for control of the remote dismiss this movie as “flag waving.” We completely disagree. 12 Strong does a great job of recounting the true story of a handful of brave men who got shit done.

While we would love to give 12 Strong our highest rating, a .44 Magnum*, for sentimental reasons, we must give it our second highest rating, a .357 Magnum.

That’s because even though it is a solid war movie with excellent production and acting, it is not particularly life-altering. That being said, it is, indeed, a solid war movie with excellent production and acting, and, therefore, worth seeing. We recommend this movie to those who are prepared for a realistic combat movie with one caveat—don’t take the kids. This is not a movie for children.

 

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Bayard & Holmes Movie Ratings

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.

  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.

  • .380: Go to the matinee if someone else is paying.

  • .38 Special: Worth paying for the matinee yourself.

  • .357 Magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.

  • .44 Magnum: Must see this. Life-altering event.

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 

Piper Bayard is a recovering attorney and an author of espionage nonfiction and international spy thrillers. Jay Holmes is a veteran field operative and a senior member of the intelligence community. Together, Bayard & Holmes are the bestselling authors of THE SPY BRIDE.

Look for their upcoming release, SPYCRAFT: Essentials for Writers, due out this spring.

 

To follow Bayard & Holmes, sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing, or find them at their site, Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments at their site, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or by email at BH@bayardandholmes.com.

© 2018 Bayard & Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Advertisements

The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

During WWII, dozens of the bloody campaigns raged around the globe, involving millions of US military personnel. Four hundred sixty-four of those Americans received the Medal of Honor — two hundred sixty-six of them posthumously. Most of the recipients received the medal for incredible feats of valor while attacking the enemy. However, in a few instances, the medal was given to a recipient that never attempted to harm the enemy. US Army Pfc. Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector from Virginia, was one of those recipients.

 

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Seventy years ago, on October 12, 1945, President Truman awarded Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor for his conduct during the US campaign to take Okinawa from the Japanese imperial forces.

The US undertook the invasion of Okinawa to establish large air bases for operations during the anticipated invasion of Japan. On April 1, 1945, 250,000 combat troops, organized into three US Marines Divisions and four US Army Divisions, stormed the shores of Okinawa.

The landings, themselves, were conducted without much resistance from the approximately 90,000 Japanese defenders. By 1945, the Japanese had decided that it was unwise to expose their forces to vastly superior US naval gunfire and US air support on the narrow beach zones where the concentrated fire would devastate them. Instead, they built strong defensive positions inland from the beaches, where the US advantages in naval gunfire and air support were negated by the close proximity of the attacking US troops.

To defend Okinawa, the Japanese military had perfected two other major defensive innovations.

The first of these was Kamikaze (Divine Wind) suicide air units. Most of us are familiar with the Kamikaze fighter plane units that were unleashed with devastating effect against the US Navy’s amphibious fleet during the US invasion of the Philippines in October of 1944. By the time the US invaded Okinawa, the Japanese had further refined their aerial Kamikaze weapons. In particular, they had developed a man-guided rocket-propelled bomb. These fast moving rocket bombs were difficult to shoot down, and, in combination with the slower Kamikaze fighter craft and light bombers, they managed to kill nearly 5,000 US sailors while sinking twenty amphibious assault ships and twelve destroyers.

On land, the Japanese introduced their second highly effective and savage innovation – the child suicide bomber. The occupying Japanese conscripted middle school children to conduct suicide bomb attacks against the invading US troops. US Marines and soldiers were hesitant to shoot at civilians that ran toward their lines because some of them were simply trying to escape the Japanese. Unfortunately, many of the children carried explosives under their loose fitting shirts. In some instances, the Japanese troops sent forward young mothers with babies. When US troops left their cover to try to assist the women and babies, Japanese snipers killed the US rescuers.

This combination of the aerial Kamikaze and the child suicide bombers greatly complicated the battle for the US forces.

The Japanese commanders in Tokyo, pleased with the effectiveness of the suicide bombers, ordered the conscription of all boys aged fifteen and older and all girls aged seventeen and older to be trained and equipped as suicide troops for the defense of the home islands against the awaited US invasion.

Such was the savage nature of the fighting on Okinawa, which made Desmond Doss’s conduct all the more remarkable.

Because of his religious beliefs, Doss was a conscientious objector. He did not want to engage in combat. His beliefs, however, did not keep him from serving in the US Army as a combat medic.

The text of Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

After his discharge from the US Army, Desmond Doss spent five years in treatment for his injuries and for tuberculosis. He died in March, 2006.

Of the thousands of stories of outstanding courage during WWII, Desmond Doss’s story is one of the most remarkable. He did not act with a burst of adrenaline for a few minutes to achieve remarkable results, but rather he acted calmly and repeatedly risked his life under fire for several days in order to save his wounded comrades. In the midst of one of the most savage battles of history, Desmond Doss, conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient, still stands as an outstanding example of courage and compassion.

Bradley Manning or Santa Breanna de Baghdad?

By Jay Holmes

To anyone following the Bradley Manning case, it is clear that a significant percentage of the public and the vast majority of the media view Private Bradley Manning as a heroic whistleblower. Since Manning’s 2010 arrest for leaking classified materials to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, most of us have heard his statements and seen him presenting himself as a likeable, articulate, and reasonable fellow—newer, shinier, and more sincere. That’s fine. This is not North Korea or Russia, and a criminal defendant has a right to be heard. But before we compare him to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, let us also consider those words and acts that caused Manning 2.0 to become a celebrity in the first place.

image from U.S. Army

image from U.S. Army

The Facts

As we pointed out in our previous Bradley Manning article, Bradley Manning—The Facts Amid the Fury, he was court martialed for passing secret information to unauthorized parties while serving in Iraq. His defense team succeeded in marketing him as a heroic whistleblower. Thanks in part to the usual sloppy journalism that has marked this case, the defense team even drew supporters who created a “Free Bradley Manning Support Network.”

The fact is that while a few of the files that Manning sent to Wikileaks may have been classified in order to protect the Army from embarrassing mistakes and possibly even crimes that resulted in civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of what Manning leaked can hardly qualify as suitable material for “whistleblowing.” While serving in Iraq, Manning gave away over 250,000 classified US diplomatic messages, nearly 500,000 secret military files, over 400,000 medical files of military personnel, and the names of Afghan double agents cooperating with the US military. In addition to capriciously violating the medical privacy rights of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the diplomatic cables that he released have made it harder for US diplomats to work with our allies and other foreign governments. And the military reported that after Wikileaks published the names of those double agents, the Taliban or Tali-clones killed most of them. That matters! If whistleblowing had been Manning’s goal, he had access to channels he could have used without fear of persecution or retribution, and without violating the personal privacy of fellow soldiers or compromising agents abroad. Manning did not use those channels.

Breanna the Woman Beater

In another vein, Manning wanted a sex change operation and wished to become “Breanna Manning.” Some of his defenders claim his actions were in part caused by the fact that, as a homosexual, he was treated unfairly by the military. Thousands of homosexuals have served honorably in the US military. I am certain that many of them may have suffered unfair treatment and may have been socially rejected by their team mates, but almost none of them responded by leaking secret information.

In 2010, before Manning leaked the documents to Wikileaks, he became angry at his superior officer and punched her in the face. He was demoted to private, but kept his access to classified information.

Arrest and Judgement 

Shortly after the woman-beating incident and before he was shipped home, Manning reached out to famous ex-hacker Adrian Lamo. He and Lamo chatted online, and he bragged to Lamo about the files that he had sent to Assange at Wikileaks. Lamo realized that the lives of US servicemen and their allies were at stake, and he contacted the FBI. Lamo gave the FBI classified files that Manning had sent him, along with logs of their chats.

On May 26, 2010, Manning was arrested by the Army and placed in custody in Kuwait. He was charged on July 5 of that year with transferring classified information to unauthorized parties while knowing that it would be used to harm the United States of America.

Last week, the military justice system determined that Manning is guilty and sentenced him to thirty-five years in prison. Given the rules of the system, Manning will be eligible for a parole hearing in ten years. I might have to attend that hearing to remind the court that before Manning was elevated to the status of “concerned whistleblower,” he was the less loveable fellow who transferred hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks resulting in many deaths, and that he punched a female soldier in the face.

Actions have Consequences

Given the volume of information Manning gave away, it will take decades to completely assess the damage done, but it is not too soon for me to be certain that Manning should not be considered a whistleblower and did not act out of concern for his fellow humans. It seems more likely that he wanted to take his revenge on an Army that he felt rejected him. He succeeded.

His legal team is smart, and they will never stop trying to convince us that the Manning and Snowden cases are similar. They clearly are not. While I do not agree with Edward Snowden’s actions, I can sympathize with his motives, and I agree with his concern about our government overstepping its authority by spying on US citizens at will.

Another sad consequence of the highly successful Bradley Manning image makeover is that too little attention is being paid to the fact that such an obviously bad soldier was able to keep such high access to classified information for so long. In an organization the size of the US Army, there will always be individuals suffering from a variety of emotional problems and psychiatric conditions. The Army needs to do a better job of keeping them away from weapon systems and classified information. A review of Manning’s army record, which includes ignoring and actively violating security requirements while still in intelligence training, indicates that he never should have had access to classified information when he was sent to Iraq. If he was already a security risk in the highly controlled training environment, then it was nuts to expect him to perform any better on the battlefield.

Whistleblower?

Was Manning the woman-beater a “heroic whistleblower” when he betrayed his fellow soldiers by releasing their personal information to the media? Was he a whistleblower when he released the names of Afghans that were risking their lives by cooperating with the US, subsequently getting most of them killed? Nevertheless, Manning’s lawyer is still loudly and absurdly proclaiming “no one was harmed by Private Manning’s actions.” He tells us that Manning acted out of patriotic concern for the welfare of the US, but the facts don’t lead to any such conclusion. I understand Manning’s lawyer pretending to believe such things. We taxpayers pay him to believe such things. That’s his job. Reasonable adults should know better. As citizens in a democracy, that’s our job.

I still hope that the Army, the State Department, and the NSA are as upset as I am about Manning’s ease of access to so much information, and I hope that the Army and all other branches of the military and government will consider showing a little more willingness to withhold security clearances and live ammo from obviously mentally unstable individuals.

America has a newer, more adorable Bradley Manning to talk about. Do we have a more efficient and responsible government yet?

The Life We Didn’t Plan – Most Realistic Combat Video Game

When life gets busy so does Holmes, but don’t worry, he’ll be back soon with more of his foreign affairs analysis and biting sarcasm. In the meantime, I thought I’d lighten things up a bit after that intense and important series on Iran (See Special Edition Iran in the Archives).

This is a piece by The Onion made shortly after the release of Call of Duty 2. Although the real Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 3 is already out, this is still a funny and disturbingly accurate spoof.

All the best to all of you for keeping it real.

Piper Bayard

Tragedy in Afghanistan Not a Surprise

By Jay Holmes

Five members of the United States Army are facing Court Martial for the alleged murder of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.

The facts of the case are not completely known to the Army itself, and I know even less about it. From the information thus far available, it appears that this group of soldiers had been involved in heavy drug use, and had been noticeably unhealthy for months before allegations of murder surfaced. The local command may have some explaining to do as to the condition of their soldiers.

Whatever occurred should not be ignored. I am in no position to judge the facts since I am, for the most part, unaware of what they actually are. What I can see clearly so far is that these soldiers were living in an abnormal situation and under tremendous stress, and that the general orders that every American service person lives by were disregarded. But by whom, why and when? Did officers ignore clear signals that their subordinates were acting outside of standing orders? I don’t know.

The Court Martial members will have the responsibility to determine the facts of the case and to assign responsibility in the form of “guilty” or “innocent.” For the sake of the dead, the accused, and all of us, I hope that the Army does so justly. I do not envy the accused, and I do not envy the members of the court. But the US Army, the Department of Defense, and we as a nation have a deeper responsibility to these men, to the people of Afghanistan, and to ourselves as a nation.

War is an ugly business. It is inevitably a tale of misery, sacrifice, and human suffering in the pursuit of triumph. We, as a nation, are at times willing to enter into that realm of misery with the hope of preventing a tragedy greater than the war itself. In our decision to make war, we should never assume or pretend that the young soldiers that we send to fight our wars are capable of remaining unaffected by the hell that we send them to.

It is in the best interest of the US Army and it’s soldiers to examine this case deeply, not just to determine guilt or innocence, but to better understand the causes of whatever occurred.

As the war in Afghanistan continues on in it’s current form, the military members that are fighting it will continue to face very demoralizing and frustrating conditions. They are exposed to attacks by civilians that are not clearly distinguishable from the innocents, and many of the innocents often are not. They see endemic corruption by an incompetent and seemingly unconcerned Afghan government. Afghanistan is a well-seeded fertile field for cultivating precisely the horrible type of incident that may have occurred.

The question that we have a deep moral obligation to answer is simple. What can and should we do to prevent this type of incident from occurring? The Army might be tempted to answer that the Uniform Code of Military Justice is in place precisely to prevent this sort of misconduct. That UCMJ has been in place a long time, and perhaps has helped to make such incidents rare, but, clearly, our troops need more help than what they are getting from us or the UCMJ.

We owe ourselves a complete investigation to obtain the facts and a thorough, dispassionate analysis of the conditions and causes of the incident.