Two hours later Deckard stood before the assembled battalion leadership.
Once again his fax machine had spat out certain doom.
“Alpha Company will be the main effort for this operation,” Deckard told the audience. Quick glances passed between Alexander, Alibek, and Kanat. The platoon sergeants knew they were going into the breach again.
“Terrain varies, consisting of central lowlands covered in thick jungle as well as steep central highland mountains. Hardball roads exist around natural centers of gravity for the local population and deteriorate to unimproved roads as they move out into less populated areas. Rivers and steams wind through the entire region, meaning we need to be prepared for river crossings.
“Situation. Enemy Forces: the Chinese-speaking United Wa State Army consists of approximately 20,000 armed men and women divided among eight divisions. Two divisions are deployed along in the south; this will be Charlie Company’s area of operations, designated AO Tiger. The remaining six divisions are stationed near the border with China. Some of these forces will be motorized; others will conduct foot patrols from fortified compounds only.
“The enemy will be armed with locally produced AK-47 rifles, as well as M16s purchased from the black market in Thailand and Cambodia. The UWSA is also known to possess RPK, PKM, RPD, and DShK machine guns, along with SPG-9 recoilless rifles and RPG-7 rocket launchers. Expect enemy compounds to be protected by mortars and Chinese-made Type 77 and Type 54 heavy machine guns, as the UWSA is now conducting arms deals through China rather then traditional black market venues in the region.
“The UWSA has also procured HN-5 man-portable surface-to-air missiles from the Chinese, which is a reverse-engineered Soviet SA-7A. This is the same anti-air platform that scored forty-two kills against Russian forces in Afghanistan, including Hind helicopters. It has also been used successfully against civilian fixed-wing aircraft in Rhodesia by ZIPRA terrorists, a C-130 in Iraq during the Gulf War, and a Blackwater operated Mi-8 helicopter in the more recent Iraq War. This needs to be carefully considered in regards to our arrival and departure from country by fixed-wing aircraft.
“Recently, the UWSA has been engaged in conflict with the host nation government after a twenty-year ceasefire agreement fell apart. Previously, they had been working with the junta to fight against other competing factions. The ruling junta changed its policy in regards to ethnic armies like the UWSA, wishing to absorb them into the regular military as border guards. The UWSA violently opposed this policy shift.
“When the junta attempted to raid a UWSA weapons factory, resistance broke out against the government troops, resulting in hundreds of casualties and displacing tens of thousands of civilians. This low intensity conflict persists into the present.
“Meanwhile, the UWSA continues its illicit trade in yaa baa methamphetamine pills, having abandoned heroine, due to yaa baa’s ease of production. It is estimated that they operate approximately fifty drug labs and are the largest narcotics producers and traffickers in The Golden Triangle. Most of these factories exist in the southern end of UWSA territory while the weapons factories, headquarters, and centers of commerce exist in the northern end, designated AO Leopard, where Alpha and Bravo companies, will operate.
“The enemy’s most likely course of action is initial shock and disorientation after first contact, giving our platoons a narrow margin of time to exploit after having achieved speed, surprise, and violence of action. Recovering from initial surprise, the UWSA’s leadership will attempt a counter attack where they are able to move reinforcements into the area.
“The enemy’s most dangerous course of action would be quickly and effectively calling in and massing a large number of armed guerrillas against Samruk forces and overrunning our positions with superior numbers and using their knowledge of local terrain to their advantage.
“Friendly forces: None.
“The junta has proved to be a ruthless dictatorship, violently waging a genocide against various ethnic minorities and suppressing any popular dissent. Ethnic opposition armies exist throughout our area of operations. Do not engage any of them if you don’t have to, or we’ll find ourselves fighting the entire countryside.
“To the south, we have Task Force 399 in Thailand, consisting of Thai Special Forces advised by American Special Forces teams. Do not attempt any cross-border engagements.
“Fire support will be provided by our mortar section. No Close Air Support, artillery, or medical evacuation will be given to us for the duration of this mission.
“Mission: Samruk International conducts special operations missions against the United Wa State Army in seventy two-hours in order to disrupt and destroy enemy forces in AO Tiger and AO Leopard located in The Union of Myanmar, previously known as Burma.”
* * *
Deckard dismissed the NCOs and advisers, having finished briefing the Operations Order and giving the men a timeline to adhere to. In an hour he expected a report from subordinate leadership, after they conducted an initial inspection of men, weapons, equipment, and vehicles.
Stepping into his office, he saw a giant black penis drawn on his dry erase board. Apparently Chuck was feeling better after his Afghanistan debacle. It was a good thing because he needed everyone at peak performance for this operation.
The Serb meandered into Deckard’s office with his ever present scowl.
“I need you to handle this,” he said, giving the Serb a handwritten list of equipment. Additionally, I need a five man detail. They can be drawn from the troops we have recovering from injuries, if need be. As long as they can carry boxes and crates a short distance and provide static security, they should be fine. I don’t want to take operational men away from platoon sergeants who need them.”
“Why me?” the second in command questioned.
“Because Korgan is busy with other tasks. I need you to do this.”
Snorting, Djokovic spun on his heel and stormed out of the office, not even trying to hide his disdain.
Deckard shook his head.
I’ll take care of you later, pal.
* * *
Somewhere above the jungle, an airplane buzzed through the night.
The Short 360 had been leased in Seychelles, the pilots contracted out of Germany, and its cargo loaded in Sri Lanka. With the seats tossed into the Indian Ocean during the initial flight, the seven passengers sat on the floor amid the cargo strapped down to the belly of the aircraft.
The pilots were Turkish, hired through a firm in Leipzig. Both had logged hundreds of hours of so-called deep water or black flights for numerous intelligence agencies. The pilot guided the aircraft, making an initial pass to insure the landing zone was clear of obstacles. He had learned to expect forklifts in the middle of runways or rioting crowds firing at him on final approach.
The jungle airfield was little more then a mud airstrip with a few modular structures around it. Large craters at the west end of the airfield looked like miniature divots from above, the additional landscaping a gift delivered by RAF B-54 bombers over sixty years ago.
The pilot yanked on the yoke, taking the plane into a nearly suicidal button hook and dive straight down towards the airstrip. With the passengers hanging on to anything they could grasp, the pilot pulled up on the controls at the last moment, the wheels touching down gracefully, everyone breathing a sigh of relief.
Powering down the twin Pratt and Whitney engines, the Turk pulled to the side of the runway next to one of the outbuildings. The passengers already had the side door open and began passing boxes and bags out as soon as the 360 came to a halt.
The cargo accumulated in a large pile on the side of the runway while five Kazakhs and two Americans downloaded the equipment. In a couple minutes they were finished, one of the Americans signaling to the pilot with a thumbs up.
With the pilot backing the Short 360 onto the airstrip, the co-pilot ran to the rear of the passenger compartment and closed the door before returning to his seat. Cranking the engines, the pilot spun the airplane around and shot back down the runway, lifting off and disappearing into the night just as abruptly as it had arrived.
The advance party had been successfully inserted into the operational area.
The Kazakh men began loading the cargo onto several handcarts that they had liberated from Jaffna Airfield, until the wheels began to sink into the mud. Ultimately, the two Americans assisted them in carrying the gear into one of the corrugated metal buildings.
Inside, Dr. Nick Van Fleet gave directions in the unpacking and setting up of the field hospital.
Known as “Nick the Dick” by his co-workers, he could be a diligent taskmaster. Many considered him arrogant, while he thought of himself merely as self-confident. The former Special Forces medic had gone to med school, becoming a surgeon as he neared his fortieth year.
Many would have taken Deckard’s one AM phone call with horror, but he jumped at the chance. The most fun Nick got to have these days was driving his Porsche at death-defying speeds around the hairpin turns of Muholland Drive near Hollywood.
Andy was a recently discharged Special Forces medic, himself, and would act as an assistant when casualties arrived sometime after combat operations commenced just hours from now.
He had been assured that casualties would, in fact, arrive.
Several stretchers and an operating table were unfolded and put together, areas to triage patients established, surgical tools and medications positioned and accounted for. The impromptu field hospital would render any and all lifesaving treatment to casualties before evacuating the men back to their home station.
Deckard hadn’t been willing to tell Nick where that home station was, but looking at the faces of the men he had sent to help provide security, he could hazard a guess.
His old friend had told him that he’d be earning his rather substantial paycheck for services rendered before the fun and games ended.
* * *
Jean-Francois walked into the hanger, wearing cut-off camouflage shorts, Jerusalem cruisers, and sporting the kind of sideburns that get good men killed in combat, according to Sergeant Majors the world over. He wasn’t a conventional soldier, and having walked across the Astana airport from the civilian terminal, it was apparent to him that this was not a conventional military unit.
The hanger was packed with tan colored assault vehicles loaded down with weapons and ammunition, with individual rucksacks strapped onto the sides. Kazakh mercenaries jogged back and forth carrying out their assigned tasks, loud voices filling what little empty space was left inside. Green and brown jungle uniforms were washed but well worn, combat boots broken in, and weapons were handled with comfortable confidence.
These guys looked like they were wired pretty tight.
Definitely not the type of Mickey Mouse operation he had half expected.
Behind him trailed two other former military men he had flown in from London with. During the flight, conversations had been guarded as they felt each other out.
“Ah, replacements,” a voice boomed from across the hanger. “Love me some fresh meat!”
A big black guy with dreadlocks motioned them over.
“Where did you come from?” the big guy asked, tossing Jean-Francois an AK-103 rifle.
“I know that, dickhead. I mean, what outfit were you in?”
“The Legion. 2REP.”
“Jesus, you probably won’t make it back,” he muttered. “What about you two?”
“I was with Force,” the former Marine with a high and tight haircut announced.
“Recon? Yeah, you’re fucked, too. How about the other guy?”
“Operational Mobile Reaction Group,” the Polish mercenary said in stunted English.
“GROM, huh? Holy shit, I’m really going to have to talk to the boss about this. This shit ain’t right.”
The trio of new recruits looked sullen, the former Marine looking down at his toes.
“I’m just fucking with you guys-” the giant black man burst out laughing. “You guys take this shit too seriously,” he said, handing the other two men their rifles.
“You might want to clean the cosmoline off those things before we hit the ground, and by the way, you are actually here to replace guys who got smoked, so I don’t expect you to last long. Until then you can call me Chuck.”
Reaching behind him, Chuck effortlessly lifted a nylon kit bag filled with gear and winged it at Jean-Francois. Catching it, the Frenchman was almost dragged to the ground by its weight. Tossing two more bags to the others, Chuck crossed his arms in front of his muscled chest.
“Hey, boss!” he yelled again. “The new guys just showed up.”
Standing by the hanger door with a finger buried in a subordinate’s chest, another American turned towards them. Speaking in Russian, the soldier he was addressing turned and ran off as the commander approached them.
The only thing Jean-Francois saw was his eyes.
They’d seen things, and for some reason he didn’t want to know what.
“You made it in time; we should be wheels up in a few hours-” the mercenary leader looked at the Polish recruit. “Good to see you again, Leszek. I was hoping you would take our offer.”
“Good to see you as well D-”
“It’s O’Brien now.”
“I understand.” The ex-Polish commando hadn’t known he was signing on with an old friend until now.
“All of you were vouched for by existing team members, so that says something, but I don’t know all of you personally. Square away your gear and do what you’re told. That’s the best advice I have for you since you missed rehearsals and mission planning. Don’t die in the next twenty-four hours, and you might see your first paycheck.”
Turning away, he looked over his shoulder to Chuck. “Escort them to their platoon sergeants.”
Chuck led the way, dropping the American and the Pollack off with a Kazakh wearing sergeants stripes on his uniform. He introduced himself as Shasha, with Bravo Company. Luckily for them the former GROM commando had a working knowledge of Russian and was able to translate for the American.
“Isn’t that special?” Chuck remarked at their handshakes. “C’mon, Picasso,” he said, motioning for the Frenchman to follow. “I know somebody wants to talk to you before I introduce you to your new boss.”
They stopped on the other side of the hanger where four trucks were lined up, front to back as a single unit, the platoon they belonged to making final adjustments to various straps and oiling machine guns.
“Wake up,” Chuck bellowed, throwing a ratchet socket he found on the ground at one of the mercenaries asleep in the driver’s seat of an assault truck.
“Huh?” he said, rubbing his eyes.
“Your buddy is here.”
The American struggled out of the driver’s seat with a groan before stretching his arms.
“Sorry, JF,” Frank apologized. “I just got in a few hours ago.”
Jean-Francois’ eyes widened in recognition.
“Who do you think got you this job?” Frank said, seeing his expression. “You were pretty good in the woods back in the Congo, as I recall.”
“That’s why? I would have expected you to recruit Delta Force guys, or Chuck Norris, or someone.”
“I heard about you drifting around. Liberia, Sudan, and then I heard about you hanging out with Karen rebel fighters in Burma.”
“Six months ago. We were ambushing the SPDC as they tried to come in and flatten Karen villages.”
The State Peace and Development Council was the Orwellian-named regime that routinely sent in the death squads to ethnically cleanse the Karen minority in southern Burma. Murder, rape, child soldiers, and land mining Karen villages after attacks were all on the SPDC’s shopping list.
“Exactly, and I got to thinking, this is just the kind of guy we need. Did you learn any Burmese while you were in country?”
“I had to, I was training the villagers to defend themselves.”
“How about Chinese?”
“Well, more then me anyway.”
Both men turned towards the open end of the hanger, hearing the sound of six monstrously large cargo aircraft screaming down the runway one after the other.
“Where are we going again?”
Frank smiled knowingly.