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Horse Soldiers    by Doug Stanton order for
Horse Soldiers
by Doug Stanton
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

If you've ever watched and enjoyed The Unit, or wondered how close the news ever comes to the reality of Special Forces operations, then Doug Stanton's Horse Soldiers (which includes twenty-six black and white photographs) is a gripping must read.

As in the TV show, Stanton balances his account of these brave men's exploits with sketches of their home lives and the families anxiously awaiting their return. He begins by revealing individuals' whereabouts on 9/11 and reactions to that disastrous day, and continues to portray what it was like waiting for deployment, and finally heading overseas, first to a base in Uzbekistan, and then - by a very scary helicopter trip over high mountains - to advise and fight with Northern Alliance commanders in Afghanistan.

Stanton then jumps ahead in time to sketch in a little of the end of this story - the November uprising of Muslim prisoners in the Qala-i-Janghi Fortress (which was filled with a Taliban stockpile of weapons) in the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan - which most of us caught at least a little of in the news. This creates suspense and pulls readers' interest through the details of all that led up to this point on various fronts.

The author alternates between different key players - mainly Fifth Special Forces Group members (trained to fight guerilla wars as 'both soldier and diplomat' and to pick targets for laser-guided attacks), but also CIA paramilitary officers Dave Olson and Mike Spann (who were at Qala-i-Janghi to interrogate prisoners), American Taliban John Walker Lindh (aka Abdul Hamid), key Northern Alliance commanders and fighters, and early reporters on the scene.

Readers follow the Special Forces units as they ride to war (though many had never been on a horse before) with their Afghan allies, taking 'light infantry and horse cavalry' against Taliban 'tanks, mortars, artillery, personnel carriers, and machine guns.' In his Epilogue, Stanton compares this story to 'a Western, featuring high-tech lasers rather than six-shooters, fought on horseback'. He quotes Special Forces soldier Ben Milo saying, 'It's as if the Jetsons had met the Flintstones.' It's quite a ride and an enthralling read.

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