True stories of war and politics have always been a filmmaker's bread and butter. We're drawn to moments on the big screen which represent the country at its best, but some of the most powerful films share the untold tales of people coming together after going through the worst. The heroic tale of a group of soldiers at the center of 12 Strong is just such a tale.
As the United States was swept up into a new era of global tension following the events of September 11, 2001, the war on terror became the nation's focus. In the months that followed the world followed the events of the war in the Middle East closely, but one recently declassified mission needs to be seen and heard.
Directly after 9/11, a small group of U.S. Air Force combat soldiers and members of the Special Forces became the first to invade Afghanistan. Without readily available manpower and resources, the group teamed up with the Northern Alliance fighters and General Abdul Rashid Dostum of Afghanistan as they all had a common enemy: the Taliban and Al-Queda forces.
The mission, codenamed Task Force Daggers, was led by Green Beret Captain Mitch Nelson. It proved to be more challenging than they first thought.
The group was not only greatly outnumbered and out-gunned, they had trouble with the mountainous terrain. Unfamiliar soil and lack of transportation options led to one plausible solution to traverse the mountains: horses. The soldiers relied heavily on horses to drive their fight against their enemy. Their harrowing fight, powered by these specific tactics gave them a nickname – the horse soldiers.
These "horse soldiers" were the focus of Doug Stanton's 2009 non-fiction novel, Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. The book is the basis for 12 Strong, in which Chris Hemsworth plays Green Beret captain Mitch Nelson. The cast also features Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, David Negahban, and Rob Riggle. It is also important to add that Elsa Pataky plays Mitch's wife opposite her real-life husband, Chris Hemsworth.
The brave actions of soldiers are regularly recounted in TV and film projects but what these men went through was unique. Sent to Afghanistan immediately after the terror attacks, they hardly had time to prepare for the danger they were being thrown into. General belief was that the conflict would be brief; that seems absurd in retrospect. And fighting on horseback while your enemy has tanks is not an ideal scenario for even the best-trained group of special forces.
Additionally, the bond between the soldiers and local Northern Alliance fighters was instrumental in taking the upper hand in the area. Hemsworth shared that sentiment when discussing the film with USA Today:
As soldiers, they put themselves in extraordinarily dangerous situations for the benefit of others. But these men embedded themselves and worked diplomacy with the locals to free the oppressed. It’s insanely impressive.
Now, as the film amplifies the story, the world will finally see the story of these heroic fighters who fired the first shots. These men put their lives on the line to overthrow a force with great tactical advantages, with no idea whether or not they would ever make it home.
12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers hits theaters January 19, 2018.