IN AFGHANISTAN: For rebels, horses are a big part of battle
November 9, 2001
BY CALVIN WOODWARD
WASHINGTON -- More than half a century after the U.S. Army gave up on four-legged warfare, Americans are supplying horse feed to Afghan rebels and watching them ride their steeds toward battle.
"The best vehicle they've got is a horse," said Edwin Price Ramsey, believed to be the last man to lead a U.S. cavalry charge -- against Japanese forces in the Philippines in 1942.
As vaguely described Wednesday by Pentagon spokesman Gen. Peter Pace, rebels have been seen "riding horseback into combat against tanks and armored personnel carriers," their horses fed and watered with U.S. help.
An expert on Afghan fighting tactics, however, says anyone who believes rebels are charging tank columns on horses has not been to Afghanistan.
"They don't fight on horseback, but the horse is vital for supplies and mobility," said David Isby, who wrote a book on weapons and strategy in the Soviet-Afghan war. "The horse is better than a four-wheel drive."
Sharif Ghalib, a counselor at the Afghan mission to the United Nations, where his country is represented by the anti-Taliban opposition, said about 600 fighters are on horseback.
"It shows a traditional way of doing things," he said from New York. But also, he said, those fighters are on horses because they don't have anything else.
Afghans also fought at a disadvantage against modern Soviet weapons early in that war. On at least one occasion, they used horses to raid Russian border troops, Isby said.
Next to helicopters, horses are the second best way to get fighters and supplies to the front in mountainous terrain, Isby said. But neither he nor Ramsey thought a frontal cavalry assault on Taliban tanks or artillery was in the cards.
"You wouldn't charge a tank. That would be stupid," Ramsey, 84, said by phone from Los Angeles. But on certain ground, a mounted fighter can make trouble.
"We had a few people who crawled up the back of tanks in the middle of a fight and put grenades into them."
Ramsey described a hurriedly organized charge by members of his 26th Cavalry platoon on Jan. 16, 1942 27 men firing pistols from their saddles in a headlong raid against an advance guard of Japanese infantry and artillery.
In hospital with a mortar wound, he learned the horses had been slaughtered for hungry soldiers.
Soon, the Philippines fell to Japan, U.S. soldiers surrendered there en masse and died by the thousands during the Bataan Death March. Ramsey escaped.
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