It was a perilous mission. US Special Forces were on the ground in Afghanistan within weeks of the 9/11 terror attacks to begin the war against the Taliban. Despite the raft of high-tech gear at their disposal, it was the trusty horse that proved pivotal in the campaign. The mounted US troops became known as the “horse soldiers”. A new monument depicting a soldier on his mount honours their efforts. Major Brandon Bissell reports.
“It was as if the Jetsons had met the Flintstones,” said Captain Will Summers, former Special Forces team sergeant for the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), as his team linked up and operated with members of the Afghan Northern Alliance just weeks after the 9/11 attacks.
A decade later those same words would resonate throughout the Winter Garden Hall in Two World Financial Center, near Ground Zero, as Vice President Joseph Biden, standing before the Ground Zero flag, spoke to the audience assembled for the dedication of a larger than life bronze statue depicting those same Green Berets.
Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) walked alongside the newly dedicated De Oppresso Liber statue as it made its way down 5th Avenue as part of the New York City Veterans Day Parade, on November 11, 2011.
It was this location where members of Task Force Dagger – a joint Special Operations team consisting mostly of Green Berets from the 5th SFG (A), aircrew members from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), and Air Force Combat Controllers – gathered with the Vice President and various New York business leaders and veteran support groups as they unveiled and dedicated an 18-foot statue, entitled De Oppresso Liber.
De Oppresso Liber, which in Latin means “to liberate the oppressed”, depicts a Special Forces Green Beret on horseback leading the invasion into Afghanistan in the weeks that followed the World Trade Center attacks.
It captures the iconic image of adaptability, skill, and courage that characterized the mission and quality of US Army Special Forces Soldiers.
As the nation’s first responders overseas, the Green Berets of the 5th SFG (A) were given the mission to hunt down those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and bring them to justice.
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.
Co-ordinating military operations while on horseback with local tribal warlords, the Green Berets accomplished in weeks what many thought would take months, if not years; defeating the Taliban and pushing surviving members of al-Qaeda into the mountains of Pakistan.
Soon thereafter, the Green Berets would adopt the familiar title of Horse Soldiers.
In honor of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, each Green Beret A-Team carried with them pieces of steel recovered from the rubble that was the World Trade Center.
At the site where each A-team completed their mission they respectively buried a piece of the World Trade Center steel and a properly folded American flag.
As the first unit to invade Afghanistan and take the fight to those responsible, the burial ceremonies in Afghanistan would forever bond the Green Berets of the 5th SFG (A) to the New York City first responders.
It was a bond formed from an understanding and an ability to relate to those first responders who risked their lives to go to the aid of others, those who ran toward the World Trade Center, not away, those who were climbing up stairwells, not down them.
So it was only fitting that on Veterans Day, traveling down the middle of New York’s famous 5th Avenue, the De Oppresso Liber statue and more than 50 “Horse Soldiers” and their family members followed directly behind the New York Police and Fire Departments and the Port Authority Police Department contingents representing the members of those organizations killed in the World Trade Center attacks.
Lieutenant General John Mulholland, commander of the US Army Special Operations Command and former commander of Task Force Dagger, reminded those present during the dedication ceremony later that evening that the statue was not just a memorial for the Horse Soldiers.
The statue is for all those who shared the common bond and responsibility to protect America’s homeland – whether it was in New York City, Washington DC, Shanksville, PA, or overseas.
Now, a decade later and due to the tireless efforts of many, a statue, designed and sculpted by Douwe Blumberg, found a home near Ground Zero in New York City.
The Two World Financial Center will serve as a temporary home for the statue.
It will eventually relocate to a site overlooking the 9/11 Memorial and Ground Zero; a fitting, final resting place for the Horse Soldier Memorial Statue.
Major Brandon Bissell is in the public affairs division of 5th Special Forces Group (A).