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Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

January 23,2018

DoD Advises on ’12 Strong,’ Gives Take on Movie’s Accuracy

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity
From DoDLive, the official blog of the Department of Defense

Those of us who are old enough to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have vivid memories of that day. But the military mission launched in retaliation isn’t one most of us heard anything about until years later. Now, it’s being depicted on the big screen.

“12 Strong” comes out this weekend and is based on what happened when a 12-man U.S. Special Forces team was inserted into Afghanistan just weeks after the attacks on 9/11. The team, which was one of the first boots on the ground, worked with feuding local warlords and resistance fighters to take down the Taliban regime that was harboring al-Qaida.


12-man teams from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s 5th Special Forces Group were the first ground soldiers of the war on terrorism following 9/11. Some of the Green Berets found themselves riding horses. U.S. Army Special Operations Command photo

Click here to take a look at how the skills of animal packing and horsemanship are still relevant in today’s military

The operation, dubbed Task Force Dagger, is still considered one of the most successful unconventional warfare mission in U.S. history.

The soldiers depicted in the movie were Green Berets assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group. They became famous not just because of their success against the Taliban but also because many of them did so on horseback – the first to ride to war that way since World War II – and they did it with only small weapons, while the Taliban enemy had tanks armed with artillery, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

 The Americans also had key air power from the Air Force backing them up … but still.

Forever after that, the members of Task Force Dagger were known as the “horse soldiers,” who have become an iconic image of adaptability, skill and courage that characterizes the Special Forces.


The Green Berets were the first ground soldiers of the war on terrorism following 9/11. Their mission was to destroy the Taliban regime and deny Al-Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan. Some of the Green Berets found themselves riding horses, becoming the first American soldiers to ride to war on horseback since World War II. U.S. Army Special Operations Command photo.

How the Movie Matches Up

“12 Strong” is based on the 2009 book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton. But how does it fare in telling the real-life story?

“We were impressed with what they did,” said Army Lt. Col. Tim Hyde, the deputy director of the Los Angeles Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, which provided advice on the project.  “What they did do very well is they got across the experiences that these soldiers went through.”

He said although producers did still take some “creative license” with it and added a few “obvious dramatizations,” they told an accurate story, in part, thanks to the Defense Department working with the crew on the production.


U.S. Army special operators confer with Afghan chieftains and resistance fighters during the mission. U.S. Army Special Operations Command photo.

The DoD’s Contribution

The movie was shot from November 2016 to February 2017 in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, area, with a few weeks spent shooting at White Sands Missile Range, which provided a lot of the enemy vehicles you see in the movie.

“The U.S. Army aircraft that you see in that film are actual 160th [Special Operations Aviation Regiment] aircraft that they brought in from Joint Base Lewis-McChord [in Washington state],” Hyde said.

Active-duty personnel were used in the movie – but you don’t actually see them. They were the people flying those aircraft.

None of the men who were depicted in the film played a role, but two of them – including real-life Capt. Mark Nutsch (portrayed by actor Chris Hemsworth) and Chief Warrant Officer Bob Pennington (portrayed by Michael Shannon) – watched the filming for a few days to get a sense of how producers were portraying their story.

“This is a fictional portrayal – don’t lose sight of that,” Nutsch told the Tampa Bay Times in a recent interview.


Real-life Capt. Mark Nutsch (left) talks with Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum (center), the Afghan warlord who helped Nutsch’s team take down the Taliban after 9/11. U.S. Army Special Operations Command photo.

A few more tidbits about their incredible real-life mission:

  • Each Green Beret carried about 100 pounds of equipment on his back, including GPS, food and U.S. currency.
  • The Afghan horses were feisty stallions who would fight each other, even when the soldiers were riding.
  • They hoofed it over some scary terrain, at times riding on foot-wide trails by cliffs at night anywhere from 6 to 18 miles a day.
  • The soldiers were operating so deep in Afghanistan that additional supplies often had to be air-dropped to them.
  • In two months, three 12-man teams like the troops in the movie, as well as more than a dozen support personnel and Afghan militia, accomplished more than any other force in Afghanistan at the time. The enemy was driven out of its safe havens in what al-Qaida still considers its largest, most destructive defeat.

Soldiers Magazine put together a great story about these horse soldiers. If you want to know more about their courageous journey, I suggest you read it

Click here to link to article and additional video of the military use of horses today.