12 Strong: The Little Known Story of the U.S. Horse Soldiers of Afghanistan

Some five weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, a band of a dozen U.S. Army Special Forces volunteered for a risky mission in war-torn Afghanistan. Code-named Task Force Dagger, it was the first military action against the fundamentalist insurgency known as the Taliban, and it marked the first deployment in what would become known as Operation Enduring Freedom. The story of the 12 Green Berets is now a major motion picture, 12 Strong from director Nicolai Fusilsig and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Fuslsig had been a commercial director prior to taking the helm of 12 Strong, but he came to the project with a background in photojournalism: he was embedded in the fighting in and around Kosovo beginning in February, 1998.

Of 12 Strong, he said, “This small Special Forces team was to link up with a local warlord named General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a leader in Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, in an effort to help him regain control of the region. It was the initial step in America’s fight against the Taliban andAl Qaeda after 9/11.”

“As a photojournalist, I have seen war first hand and definitely experienced some very intense moments,” the director pointed out. “In a way, all wars are somewhat similar when you consider the element of human tragedy, but I think this film is a very different type of war drama. The Americans come to help the Afghans fight their own battle against the Taliban, so these people from two very different cultures have to learn to work together for a shared cause.”

From day one Task Force Dagger was a classified operation kept secret for years until journalist Doug Stanton wrote a detailed account of the mission in his 2009 book, Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. That book has been adapted for the screen by Peter Craig and Ted Tally and stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, and Michael Pena.

Hemsworth portrays the Army officer, Captain Mitch Nelson, who led the Green Berets into combat. “These Green Berets weren’t there as occupiers; they were there to assist the Afghan people who had been fighting for their freedom. Without much prior intel, they had to come in and earn the trust of Dostum and his men or they could never have accomplished their mission. What I loved about this story was it was a chance to show Americans working side-by-side with the Afghan people to fight a common enemy.”

The movie depicts the actions of the U.S. Special Forces dropped in country in the dead of night by Chinook helicopters. The terrain they discovered was rocky and mountainous, and they found themselves immediately surrounded by Afghan forces they assumed to be friendly. What they did not know in those immediate moments was that some of the basic tenets of their training would in short order undergo a major adjustment. Forget armored transport. These men would need to learn to ride horses, and fast.

In the words of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, “The only way through the mountain passes is on mules or horses, so they had to adapt. Only one of them was an expert rider, so the rest had to learn on the run.”

The same would be true for the actors tasked with taking on the roles of these American soldiers. Prior to filming, the actors underwent a sort of horse back boot camp.

“I think all of us felt comfortable with our weapons and such on the ground,” Hemsworth recalls. “Then we got on the horses and it sort of threw everything up in the air, but in a good way because these Special Forces guys were in that same situation. None of them knew what they were doing.”

12 Strong runs 2 hours 10 minutes and is rated R.

Chris Hemsworth on the movie

<1>12 Strong trailer.

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