President Obama might want to drop his attacks on Mitt Romney’s “Romnesia.” During Monday’s foreign-policy debate, Obama sarcastically informed the governor about “these things called aircraft carriers” and “ships that go underwater.” For one, voters in Norfolk, Va., and Groton, Conn., might tell the president that ships that “go underwater” are sunk, but boats that go underwater are called submarines.
But the president’s condescending dismissal of criticism about defense budget cuts — noting that today’s military has “fewer horses and bayonets” — also was a gaffe. Land combat soldiers and Marines train with bayonets and still use them in battle when other weapons fail. What’s more, perhaps it was a case of “Obamnesia” that accounts for the president’s failure to remember the indispensible role that horses played in the early days of war in Afghanistan.
Sculptor Douwe Blumberg, inspired when he read about the Special Operations Forces’ exploits on horseback, created the striking bronze monument bearing the Latin motto De Oppresso Liber, meaning “To free the oppressed.” Even the liberal Huffington Post was aware that the striking Horse Soldier Monument was moved to its permanent home near the new World Trade Center One last Friday, October 19.
One can only imagine what would have happened if Mitt Romney had made a similar gaffe, forgetting a storied military campaign that depended on horses for its success and occurred only eleven years ago.
During a Fox News interview on Veterans Day 2011, former Horse Soldiers described the difficulties of the mission and its importance to the war effort. Despite language barriers and a lack of modern transportation, the courageous warriors fought for critically important intelligence and led the way for the aerial attacks and ground military operations to come.
HorseTalk.co.nz reported that the trusty horse proved pivotal in the daring and unique campaign, which one soldier described as “The Flintstones meeting the Jetsons”:
The Special Forces teams faced enormous operational challenges and were required to rapidly adapt 21st century combat technologies and tactics into age-old Central Asian models of guerilla and tribal warfare as they partnered with the Afghan tribes of the Northern Alliance.
Needing suitable transportation to navigate the difficult mountainous terrain of Northern Afghanistan, the Special Forces Operational Detachments – Alpha (SFOD-A), or A-teams, were provided horses by the Afghan tribes they were supporting. The Green Berets readily accepted this superior form of mobility and proceeded to assist and advise the Northern Alliance fighters from horseback, similar to the cavalry days of old.
When the Horse Soldiers landed by helicopter in Afghanistan, the shock of 9/11 was still fresh. Each Green Beret A-Team carried with them small fragments of World Trade Center steel, which they reverently buried in the soil of Afghanistan along with a carefully folded flag in the memory of those who died on that day.
Years later, American soldiers and Marines are still fighting against ruthless enemies who bury deadly explosive devices in the paths of our troops, and attack with tactics learned from our own infantry troops, often with scimitars (used for beheadings) dangling from their waists.
For insight into what modern war can be like, President Obama should read the book Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan, by retired Army captain Sean Parnell. In May 2006, the infantry platoon that Parnell led had to fight repeated battles in the Hindu Kush, carrying out dangerous missions and defending themselves with high-tech weapons and bayonets when enemy ambushes in mountain passes left them exhausted and wounded, low on ammunition, and desperate for reinforcements.
President Obama deserves credit for approving the successful attack on Osama bin Laden, but he would be a better commander-in-chief if he took the time to look beyond his own role to gain insight into the sacrifices of all Special Operations Forces soldiers who have fought so bravely in defense of America.
— Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness, an independent, non-partisan public-policy organization that specializes in military/social issues. More information is available at www.cmrlink.org.