Green Berets Mark Nutsch and Bob Pennington, both depicted in the new film “12 Strong,” spoke with Seth Leibsohn earlier this week about the movie and progress made during their service following 9/11. Listen to the audio and read the transcript below.
Seth Leibsohn: Welcome back to the Seth and Chris show. I’m Seth Leibsohn. He is Chris Buskirk. Chris and I have been talking a lot about movies lately, end of year movies, Christmas movies, movies to learn from. There is a movie coming out that is, people have watched “Dunkirk,” they’ve seen the Churchill movie “Darkest Hour”— history, how important it is, war history, freedom history.
There is a moving coming out called “12 Strong.” It debuts in theaters across the country a week from Friday. We are delighted to have in studio with us two of the men who are featured in this movie “12 Strong,” Mark Nutsch and Bob Pennington. Am I saying, Mark, am I saying your last name right?
Mark Nutsch: Yes.
Seth Leibsohn: Okay, thank you very much.
“12 Strong” is a hell of a story and it’s a hell of a story that most Americans don’t know about until now. Either one of you want to give a 30-second presser or a 30-second description on what it was and we’ll dig in just a little deeper? Better from you than from me, you were there.
Bob Pennington: Mark’s got it.
Seth Leibsohn: Mark’s got it.
Bob Pennington: Here’s why. He’s been prepping himself for this for several days now. So, he’s the man.
Seth Leibsohn: All right, Mark, tell us.
Mark Nutsch: So, the film “12 Strong” is a fictional portrayal about a Special Forces team, our Special Forces team that Bob and I were the detachment commander and assistant detachment commander for that had the honor right after 9/11. While most of America was looking at smoking holes on the TV in New York City and Pentagon in Pennsylvania Field, there was a small group of special forces and our larger special operations community under what was designated Task Force Dagger that was tasked to deploy over to Afghanistan and come up with a plan to overthrow the Taliban government and go after Al Qaeda.
Seth Leibsohn: This took place when? When did this take place?
Mark Nutsch: This mission in portrayal of “12 Strong” took place approximately they cover the period of September 11 through the 10th of November when my team and a couple other special forces teams working with over 5,000 Afghan militia fighters that we had raised liberated the key city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Seth Leibsohn: And this was done with the Northern Alliance right?
Mark Nutsch: Yes, so by working with the Northern Alliance we were able to bring three different ethnic faction groups together that had each been independently fighting against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, got them to unite and join forces to overthrow and defeat the Taliban army in the field.
Seth Leibsohn: This was an incredible story. It was incredibly told. My friend, Tom, who has had the privilege of seeing the movie … again, it’s released a week from Friday … he’s former military. He said it’s one of the best movies and especially one of the best military or war movies he’s ever seen.
You’re played by Chris Hemsworth, right?
Mark Nutsch: Yes. I’m played by Chris Hemsworth in this film. He portrays a fictional captain, Mitch Nelson. I am the real captain, Mark Nutsch.
Seth Leibsohn: Okay, and what is it do you think Americans should know about Afghanistan today, having been there, having served there, having won there. What do they need to know today about what’s going on there?
Mark Nutsch: The people of Afghanistan are those initial groups that we worked with in the north that are the Uzbeks, the Hazaras, and the Tajik faction. They are still our allies. They still need American support. Afghanistan as a country with this current government has enormous challenges. They need financial help, they need technical help, they need help rebuilding their country that has been devastated by over 40 years of war.
Seth Leibsohn: Bob, do you share this? We conventionally hear Afghanistan spoken of as the death of empires, but is this a place that we can bring calm or better to in the end?
Bob Pennington: I think it’s gotten better than it ever has. What we did during that timeframe to help liberate Afghanistan was significant. Now, yeah, we are still in there, we are still fighting, but in the end, their freedom is clearly visible now, more so than it ever was. You actually see kids come out; you can see the women come out. At one time when we first went in, I had never seen a woman or a child at all.
Mark Nutsch: As if, the society was ashamed of them even being around.
Bob Pennington: Absolutely. You’re speaking of a people that they don’t care how they live or where they live, they just want freedom and they want to continue on with their lives. We’re talking about people that actually still do live in caves, but guess what? That’s okay. That’s a part of their culture and they’re fine with it and kudos to them.
Mark Nutsch: They had been, the Taliban and Al Qaeda had been brutal on the population and had driven out anyone that resisted against them or wouldn’t conform to their brand of Sharia law, had driven them into the rural mountains. So, these people took their families and fled. They live in austere poverty in some places, but they’ve managed to keep their families together and scratch out a living and continue to survive.
Bob Pennington: And that’s the key, what Mark said. Even though they live in areas that we would look at and be ashamed, not us ourselves because we’re used to it, soldiers, Green Berets especially because we come into the culture, we live with them, we share food with them, dine, laugh, jokes, and in the end fight with them.
Mark Nutsch: And we had to have several conversations just like, “Afghan Commanders going Mark, do you think we like living like this?”
Bob Pennington: Right.
Mark Nutsch: “I want my family to have an opportunity, I want my wife and children to have an education. I want my family to have medical care.” There was a huge mortality rate for Afghan women in childbirth. Education has taken root there. A number of clinics and hospitals have been established in different areas where medical assistance didn’t exist previously, where they would have to travel hours or days to find the nearest, what we would consider basic clinic that any city in America, it’s just a few minutes down the road.
Bob Pennington: They gained more ground than you actually hear about or know about.
Seth Leibsohn: This I’m not surprised about. One of the things I want to ask you about, if I can, going back to the movie, we’re talking about the movie “12 Strong” coming out a week from Friday. Two of the lead characters are here in real life—
Seth Leibsohn: You guys must be so proud of this story coming out, but one of the questions I wanted to ask you about, you fought alongside the Northern Alliance, I wanted to ask you how strong the Northern Alliance was at that time. I remember shortly before 9/11 Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated.
Mark Nutsch: Yeah, that’s right. He was assassinated.
Seth Leibsohn: I was told we had no better ally ever.
Mark Nutsch: Yes.
Bob Pennington: That’s correct.
Mark Nutsch: I never had the opportunity to meet the man, but he was assassinated by Al Qaeda operatives posing as journalists.
Seth Leibsohn: He was the little story that no one paid attention to—
Bob Pennington: It was a little story, but we thought that would generate an impact as far as us going in and how would that still unite those forces that we would need to get rid of or drive out the Taliban.
Seth Leibsohn: Well, Mark and Bob, I want to thank you for being in Phoenix and talking about this movie and sharing your story. As we talk more about Afghanistan, which hopefully this movie will help bring back that discussion, I’m hoping we can get you on phone for a longer interview. I would love to do it.
Mark Nutsch: We hope that this film inspires the American public to learn more about the real story and the real people and events.
Seth Leibsohn: I would love to do it. The movie is “12 Strong.” Our guests have been Mark Nutsch and Bob Pennington. God bless you both and thank you for your service.
Bob Pennington: God bless.
Mark Nutsch: Thank you for having us here.