A rocket-launching truck appears amid a pack of Soviet-era tanks and armored personnel carriers in the Afghan mountains, threatening to vanquish a group of doughty Afghan freedom fighters. Just when all seems lost, American Green Berets on horseback brave a hail of bullets and ride into the enemy position, firing shots at breakneck speed with an accuracy that would make John Wayne weep. Dodging bullets to the left and RPGs to the right, the SF soldiers overwhelm the armored column and destroy the rocket launcher, clearing the way for an unparalleled victory of man and horse over machinery and evil. Martial music swells. Rallied, the Afghan freedom fighters rebound, and drive the enemy Taliban off in disarray. Afghanistan is freed from the grip of its satanic, al Qaeda-sponsored oppressors . . .
It’s a great scene, roughly the climax of the movie 12 Strong, ending the Taliban’s reign as protectors of Islamic terrorism. It’s gripping, symbolic and, according to the advertising and hoopla, based on a true story.
There was a massive battle, and the good guys did win, but it didn’t happen that way.
Then again, not much in the movie happened the way it happened in real life.
Don’t get us wrong. We love the way things blow up in the film, and it certainly makes us look like heroes. But like any movie, there’s a wild amount of exaggeration, not only in that scene, but throughout the movie. Now, entertainment is one thing; you expect it to distort reality to some degree. As producer Jerry Bruckheimer said, he wasn’t making a documentary; he wanted to honor the story and the Americans who fought there. But what about the nonfiction accounts of the early days of the war? More than a few tell stories that are roughly parallel to what 12 Strong shows on the screen.
They’re all true, right?
Not exactly. Nearly all contain countless inaccuracies, or to be more generous, unique perspectives of what happened there. From the location (and results) of the biggest single bomb-drop in the war to the implied heroism of people who were actually miles away from the action . . . a lot of the details are frustratingly incorrect or misleading.
But here’s the thing: The real story of what happened in Afghanistan after 9/11 is pretty dramatic without the distortions or misinterpretations. It’s bloody, patriotic, idealistic, filled with action, incredibly improbable, and a testament to courage.
We know, because we were there. We – Green Beret Captain Mark Nutsch and Green Beret Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bob Pennington – led ODA 595, better known as the Horse Soldiers.