East of Kabul, the watery sunlight sparkled on the snow-covered peaks of the Paghman Mountains. At the controls of the C130 aircraft, Captain Mark Waterman spoke into the mic, ‘Hercules-901, Bagram control, request permission to take-off.’
‘Bagram control, Hercules-901, you are clear for take-off on Romeo-Two.’
‘Thank you, Bagram.’
The four engines purred as the big cargo plane lumbered onto the end of the runway. Waterman pushed the throttles to maximum and felt the control column shudder as the huge turbines roared into life. As the aircraft left the tarmac, the captain pulled hard back on the controls and banked to the south in a steady climb over the mountains that surrounded the ancient city.
The small fire had kept the man’s hands warm and fingers nimble. Through powerful binoculars he’d watched the plane move to the runway and climb into the clear morning sky. He’d prepared the weapon and checked it several times while waiting for the Hercules to leave the airbase. He lifted the cumbersome launcher to his shoulder and braced himself as the aircraft headed towards his position. His breath swirled around his head as he exhaled, then his finger gently squeezed the trigger.
The rocket shot skyward, the vapour trail white in its wake, screaming towards the target.
‘Incoming! Incoming!’ yelled Waterman.
The co-pilot fired the counter measures but it was too late. The ground-to-air missile struck between the first and second engines and the wing, loaded with fuel, added to the explosion.
The man eased the heavy launcher from his shoulder and watched as the huge fireball engulfed the doomed aircraft.