On November 11th a new monument dedicated to US Special Operations Forces will be unveiled near Ground Zero in New York. The statue, of a soldier on a rearing Afghan horse, commemorates all SOF troops, but in particular the handful who fought alongside anti-Taliban opposition in Afghanistan in autumn and winter 2001. The author Doug Stanton told their story in Horse Soldiers, a book that I found rather frustrating: while the heroism and feats of both Afghan and US armed forces was spectacular, Stanton’s prose was unnecessarily overlarded. I do recommend it, however, if you want to know about the most recent “last cavalry charge”, which took place when Afghan opposition soldiers galloped pell mell into machine gun fire (and succeeded) and to get some idea of the incredible risks that both sides ran.
The Daily Caller has a special filmed report on the horse soldiers, whose story is shortly to be made into a Jerry Bruckheimer film. I would love to interview the Afghan fighters about that last cavalry charge…
Thank you to Karen K for this spectacular photo essay: British journalists Mark Seager and Jerome Starkey play Buzkashi. Wow-o-wow.
Buzkashi is part of the polo family – an Afghani ancestor of the modern game – although the chapandazan (players) prefer to use a goat carcass and not a ball. Every match is dense with local political significance and scores between war loards settled, refreshed and created anew. Not even the Taliban dared to ban it.
Earlier this year the director of buzkashi on the Afghani Olympic Committee (no, I wasn’t aware it existed either) announced that he was seeking Western investors to help bring the game to London. The Independent reported:
During the 1980s the Soviet-backed government tried to increase regulation in the hope that some of its popularity would brush off. In his masterful study of buzkashi, anthropologist Whitney Azoy recorded the story of Habib, a legendary chapandaz whose skill on the field won him esteem far exceeding his lowly background. Pressured by communists to denounce the anti-Soviet resistance, Habib later tried to atone by smuggling food to the rebels. He was almost killed in an air strike, the story goes, but his horse, mortally wounded, carried him to shelter before dying.
The account is typical of the tales that have grown up around buzkashi. The sport is a vestige of the times when everyone between the Black Sea and China lived on horseback. Hollywood has romanticised it on more than one occasion, most famously in Rambo III, when mujahideen fighters invite John Rambo to play with them before Soviet gunships break up the game.
Don’t you think we need to see this at the Hurlingham?