Horse Soldiers

Just received a review copy of Doug Stanton’s Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, which is about the special operations soldiers who infiltrated Taliban held Afghanistan and who were forced to blend the ancient with the postmodern on the battlefield. Horse Soldiers is doing very well on The New York Time’s bestseller list and is up near the very top of that prestigious category.

The promotion people also included the audio book as well in a 7 hour  CD set. I’ve never listened to a “book on tape”, as they used to be called back in the day, so this might be the opportunity to give that format a try and review.

Flipping through the pages, the Horse Soldiers is not at all dry military history but action-packed narrative to which a general audience might relate. Here is an excerpt from the prologue:

Qala-i-Janghi Fortress

Mazar-i-Sharif, AfghanistanNovember 24-25, 2001Trouble came in the night, riding out of the dust and the darkness.

Trouble rolled past the refugee camp, past the tattered tents

shuddering in the moonlight, the lone cry of a baby driving high into

the sky, like a nail. Sunrise was no better; at sunrise, trouble was

still there, bristling with AKs and RPGs, engines idling, waiting to

roll into the city. Waiting.These were the baddest of the bad, the real masters of mayhem, the

death dealers with God stamped firmly in their minds. The city groaned

and shook to life. Soon everyone knew trouble had arrived at the gates

of the city.

Major Mark Mitchell heard the news at headquarters nine miles away and

thought, You’re kidding. We got bad guys at the wire?

He ran downstairs, looking for Master Sergeant Dave Betz. Maybe he

would know what was happening.

But Betz didn’t know anything. He blustered, “One of the Agency guys

came down and told us we got six hundred Taliban surrendering. Can you

believe that?”

Surrendering? Mitchell couldn’t figure out why. He thought the Taliban

had fled from the approaching forces of the Northern Alliance to

Konduz, miles away. American Special Forces and the Northern Alliance

had been beating them back for weeks, in battle after battle, rolling

up territory by coordinating airstrikes from the sky and thousands of

Northern Alliance soldiers on the ground. They now stood on the verge

of total victory. Konduz was where the war was supposed to go next.

Not here. Not in Mazar. Not at Club Mez.

Besides, these guys didn’t surrender. They fought to the death……

Hmmmmm. Note to self. If you want to sell books, write more like this and less like an academic in a dusty cubicle at an obscure think tank.:)

14 comments on this post.
  1. Doug Stanton: John Wayne:

    […] Mark Safranski has a mini-review up of Doug Stanton’s Horse Soldiers. […]

  2. Lexington Green:

    Most people who write books ARE acacemics in dusty cubicles.  A dusty cubicle is a quiet place to sit and write a book. 
    Doug Stanton seems more like a professional writer with an adventurous side to him:
    To write like, say, Robert Young Pelton, or Robert Kaplan, or various military memoirists, it may be the case that you need to live like them and do the things they do, then that will carry into your writing.
    Also people from the dusty cubicle universe are rewarded for being dry, boring, jargon-laden, smug and generally well-equipped to speak to an audience of fellow dusty cubicle dwellers.   It is self-selecting and self-replicating.  The rewards are not bestsellerdom, but the tawdry, dusty trinkets that such people fight like rats for.  A chuckle with relief at my narrow escape from such a life. 


  3. zen:

    I had a brief and minimal interaction with RYP on another blog, minimal because he was mostly annoyed with another commenter accusing him of being a CIA guy. I’ve read his book, I don’t want to live the way he does. Aside from the guys with AK-47’s hopped up on drugs, it soulds like he is knee deep in bugs and tropical diseases. One trip, maybe. Lifestyle, no. I’ll remain pedantic and enjoy air conditioning. LOL!

  4. RYP:

    Ah…but there is one minor difference between Stanton’s writing and mine… I was actually with "the horse soldiers" not doing the official DoD whitewash dog and pony after the fact :))) 

  5. Lexington Green:

    Got a review copy of this in the mail today. 

    I will have to find RYP’s writing on this campaign in Afghanistan, and compare them. 

  6. zen:

    Hi RYP,
    You say "whitewashing" as if it is a bad thing – it may be the oldest military tradition of all !  😉 
    Point definitely taken though, which I will keep in mind as I read/listen to Horse Soldiers.
    Lex, shoot me a link to what you read from RYP on first phase of the Afghan campaign – very interested.

  7. Lexington Green:

    Actually, I will need to look that up, myself. 

    There is this:

  8. RYP:

    Whitewashing as in covering up what happened and reshaping the relative skillsets actions and motivations of the players. The team I was with  (ODA 595) did the heavy lifting and the Lt Col in the story was actually their nemesis. The team agreed to  tell the real story through me and was given aliases in Stanton book (except for my friend Bill Bennett who was killed in Iraq)

  9. RYP:

    Sorry for the extra post. But the bottom line is the Stanton book is the "official" version in order for him to gain partial access.  Anyone who was in the military knows the difference between what really happened and the DoD sanctioned version. The book I am writing  is called "The Regulators". You can get a taste by reading "The Legend of Heavy D and The Boys"
    Its because of the deeds of men like Bill Bennett and Mike Spann that I was compelled to write the real story…but only when it was time.

  10. Lexington Green:

    "The team agreed to  tell the real story through me"
    RYP — In which book(s) or article(s) do you tell that story? 

  11. zen:

    Liked the Salon interview upthread – RYP draws a very nice set of distinctions between what happens vs. what becomes the emphasized narrative, who owned the moment vs. who becomes history and the untidy messiness of starting points. Also a very depressing picture of MSM journalism as it has evolved since, well, probably Vietnam ended contrasting with how RYP and a few other independents still do things. 

  12. RYP:

    The links take you to the intial magazine article, the book "The Regulators" is in progress.

    A number of the original team had been active duty and there have been a number of unfortunate attempts to tell the cleaned up story. Hunt for Bin Laden, First In, Jawbreaker and Horse Soldiers all have major fictionalized, reshaped, second hand and incorrect narratives, events, characterizations and background. Note Stanton shaping of Lindh, recasting the C team as main actors, removing some characters, inventing names and blurring the very different accomplishments of each team.

  13. zen:

    " Note Stanton shaping of Lindh, recasting the C team as main actors, removing some characters, inventing names and blurring the very different accomplishments of each team."
    That strikes me as an excessive amount of shaping above and beyond any legitimate security needs, identities of CIA ppl etc.

  14. LS:


    IS your book soon to be published?  Bill Bennett was my best friend and comrad and we served to gether early in his military career.  I had a small hand in introducing him to his wife.

    Please contact me at  I have read heavy D and the boys and would be interested in readin gmore about your time with them.