’12 Strong’ Isn’t the Afghan War Movie We Deserve, but It’s the One We Want

    Task and Purpose, Adam Linehan

    Security, Middle East

    But why is this story important now?

    Long ago — before the War on Terror devolved into a game of whack-a-mole; before MRAPs, and IEDs, and ROEs, and PTSD, all that other mundane stuff —  a small group of Green Berets rode into battle against America’s enemies in the most glorious way possible: on horseback. The year was 2001. The commandos, a 12-man team codenamed Operational Detachment Alpha 595, were the first U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. For weeks, they galloped alongside a faction of the Northern Alliance and beat the britches off a much larger Taliban force. It was an extraordinary display of unconventional warfare. By mid-November, the Taliban had abandoned Kabul, and Osama Bin Laden was hightailing it to Tora Bora. Were the War on Terror a blockbuster Hollywood movie, the credits would probably start rolling right about there.

    That movie debuts on Jan. 19. Starring Chris Hemsworth as Capt. Mitch Nelson, the leader of ODA 595, and Michael Shannon as his steely-eyed second-in-command, 12 Strong is being touted as “the declassified true story of the horse soldiers.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration. ODA 595’s mission in Afghanistan stopped being a secret on Nov. 16 2001, when then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld showed reporters a photograph of a bearded commando on a horse and explained that the man was one of the Green Berets directing air strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in northern Afghanistan. The soldiers’ tale was also told in Doug Stanton’s 2009 nonfiction book, Horse Soldiers, upon which the film is based — hence “true story.”

    But did everything depicted in 12 Strong happen in real life? No, of course not. It’s a Hollywood film. (“This is a fictional portrayal — don’t lose sight of that,” the real-life “Nelson,” Mark Nutsch, told the Tampa Bay Times.) But more than that, it’s a Hollywood film about U.S. special operations.

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