A couple of weeks back I read Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, by Doug Stanton. I had picked it up because I still remember the obvious relish in Don Rumsfeld's press conference over the photos of the US Special Forces participating in an 18th century style cavalry charge in the early days of the war in Afghanistan. The Secretary of Defense also noted that they had to make a special trip to the store to meet the requested next supply drop, which included saddlery and horse feed. Indeed, stories on the successful combination of the "fourth world" military forces of the Northern Alliance with the 21st century satellite communication, GPS and smart bombs of the modern US military replaced a string of tedious speculation in the press about the impossibility of operating in such hostile terrain during the "brutal Afghan winter."
What makes President Obama's big gotcha line about horses and bayonets in last night's debate even sillier to those of us who follow military operations was that Afghan Horse Soldiers were back in the news this week. The President may not always have time in his schedule for security briefings but surely he must be aware of what is in the Huffington Post. From October 22, 2012.
A sculpture depicting a US soldier riding horseback during the invasion of Afghanistan was unveiled near its new home on Friday near One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
The 16-foot-tall bronze statue, titled "De Opresso Liber," depicts a Special Operations soldier in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, and commemorates the first time US troops used horses in combat since 1942.
De Opresso Liber, "To Liberate the Oppressed" is the motto of the Special Forces.
As for those hopelessly obsolete bayonets, it turns out they also still have their place in military operations. The Marines still use them to instill discipline and aggressiveness in basic training and they remain standard issue upon deployment. Nor has the order Fix Bayonets been confined strictly to basic training in recent wars, as this June 21, 2009 article from the Washington Post details.
Not long after giving that order, 1st Lt. Arthur Karell was hunched in a dirt trench crowded with Marines. The hushed darkness bristled with eight-inch blades fitted beneath the barrels of dozens of M-16 assault rifles.
You fix bayonets when you expect to need the aggressive combat mind-set that's produced by the primal sight of massed blades. You fix them when you expect to search hidden places. You fix them when you expect the fight could push you within arm's reach of your enemy -- gutting distance.
That distance is not uncommon in counter insurgency operations inside villages, towns and cities.
Oh, by the way, Mr. President, one more thing. No matter no big it may be a submarine always remains a boat. To call one a ship is akin to referring to a Marine as a solider. A Commander in Chief should know those things.