The Trust of Those I Have Sworn to Protect
Lieutenant Kelly contacted the SEAL command team back at Bagram to debrief them on the attack and discuss what it might mean. The opinion of command was that the Taliban had made a mistake and had exposed themselves. They saw this as an opportunity to shift the balance and go on the offensive. Also, since time was not on their side anymore, they could not afford to continue to make altogether conservative moves. The drawdown was in full swing and there would be fewer and fewer combat troops in Afghanistan to fully confront the Taliban. Lieutenant Kelly’s orders were that, if and when the Taliban attempted another attack, he was to have his team ready to pursue. Commander Heard agreed with Kelly’s opinion that there was an opportunity to acquire a prisoner or two and gather additional intelligence on this mysterious warrior in the mountains.
The next day, Kelly had his team make a full survey of the COP, tactically examining every area around the COP that might be advantageous for a Tali mortar attack. The team came back with what amounted to five options that, allowing for range and trajectory, might cause the most damage to the COP and still leave an avenue of escape. They used the remaining daylight to establish intrusion warning devices and line-of-sight night vision. When the Taliban made another attempt on the COP, the SEALs would be ready to pounce.
Cleverly concealed in the hills outside the COP, Tajwah Rabbani silently watched the SEALs conduct their survey and made mental notes of their activities. He would let the Americans set their traps, and wait an additional night before making another attack. If he waited, they might think that the previous bombardment was a onetime event and relax their defenses a bit. Anyway, tarrying for another night would allow for a new moon and give him and his three colleagues the much-needed added darkness to make their retreat and lure the Americans from their holes for the chase.
That night there were no barbeques or card games at COP Craver Marvel. The entire group was on alert with surveillance set up at the five identified points. Todd and Zip were overseeing the spot where the first attack occurred. Both of them were equipped with night vision equipment. Zip’s was a specially designed K9 version that gave him exceptional depth of vision but blocked out all peripheral sight. He still struggled with the discipline needed to wear the uncomfortable goggles and not push them off his head since they essentially eliminated his normal 270-degree field of vision. The night was exceptionally quiet with a constant wind prevailing through the valley from west to east. A couple of times throughout the night, Zip caught fleeting scents in the air and rose to attention to see if he could identify anything, but as soon as a scent would come, it would be gone again. Near dawn, they were both relieved of their post and retired to the CP for a few hours rest before being sent on patrol again outside the COP.
Rabbani watched the SEALs again the next day. He had picked his area of attack. It was one that gave him the least advantage on angle for the mortar barrage, but one that he felt he could reach without detection. It also gave him two options for escape through the mountain pass, and a near-direct route to the Bebiyal ruins where Karmal would be waiting to slaughter the infidel crusaders. At dusk, he took advantage of the shifting shadows against the valley walls to move into position as the sun fell below the horizon.
Rabbani took up his position with the brothers Abdul and Nadir Taraki. He left the fourth member of his group, Wakil Hassan, to trip one or two of the motion detectors the SEALs had set up. This would create a small diversion before they fired on the COP. Just after midnight, Rabbani watched as Hassan purposely tripped one of the motion detectors and waited to see if there was a reaction. While he could see no movement from the base, he knew that he had their attention. He began to worry a bit if he was being too clever by trying to divert their attention.
He gave Hassan thirty minutes to work his way to a point near their position where they had agreed to meet after the attack. He then checked the distance and angle of his Zagan 82 mm mortar and dropped in the charge. As soon as the shell left the tube, the night sky lit up with .50 caliber tracer rounds coming from the COP and Rabbani and the two brothers dove for cover behind a group of large boulders. The first rounds of return fire scored a hit on the mortar tube, shredding it to pieces and throwing tiny bits of shrapnel throughout the area. The mortar round completely missed its mark on the COP, and bullets pounded off the boulders taking out chunks at a time as Rabbani and the Taraki brothers furiously crawled away from the killing zone.
Flairs shot into the air and lit up the landscape as the three Taliban fighters reached a narrow crevice against the hillside with enough cover to stand upright. As Nadir Taraki arose near the edge of the pass, a round bounced off the rocks taking a piece of flesh out of his shoulder and knocking off his wool pakol cap. He stifled a yelp and looked around frantically for his brother and Rabbani, spotting them squatted a few yards away. The three were still rattled by the speed and accuracy of the response from the COP when Hassan met them in the crevice.
“Well, I think that angered them as Mullah Karmal has wished,” Rabbani blurted breathlessly. “They will be coming now. We must move quickly. Wakil, bury our two contact mines here to slow them down. Abdul, patch up your brother’s shoulder so that he doesn’t leave a blood trail. Allah be with us.”
Back at COP Craver Marvel, the men and military working dog of First Squad, Second Platoon of SEAL Team 4 and their Afghani interpreter and guide were geared up and ready to go. Lieutenant Kelly took one last minute to do an equipment check and ensure that each team member had sufficient ammo and water. They would have to pursue the Taliban on foot since they would traverse rough terrain, cutting through some narrow hills and mountainsides where no vehicles could pursue. The team left the gate in a two-man, five-meter disbursement with Zip, Todd, and Fox on point.
God be with us, Kelly quietly prayed to himself as his team efficiently moved out of the COP heading towards the area of the mortar shot.
It took them ten minutes to get to where the shot had been launched.
“Damn! Those SAS boys plastered this place,” Fox said as he reached what was left of the mortar tube and surrounding boulders.
Todd and Zip took little notice. Zip had his nose to the ground and tail in the air. He was memorizing the scents of the men who had only recently left the area.
“Zoek!” Todd told Zip.
Zip darted towards the spot where the three Taliban fighters had made their way to the narrow pass. The rest of the squad followed Todd’s and Zip’s lead. At the front of the pass, they found some blood splatter and a tattered gray pakol. Todd left it where it was while Zip buried his nose in it to fully burn the scent into his memory. There was a lot of loose stone and dirt along the path and Zip would easily be able to track the scent.
Lieutenant Kelly brought up the rear of the squad and approached Todd while Zip continued to gather all the smells of the site.
“Can he track them?”
Todd didn’t reply to what he thought was an absolutely ridiculous question. He just pursed his lips in an obvious gesture of annoyance and shot Kelly a sideways glance.
“OK, OK, dumb question,” Kelly conceded. “Get him moving.”
“Revieren!” Todd commanded, giving Zip permission to pursue the enemy and to be prepared to attack.
Zip immediately went to work and plunged into the narrow passage of rock at a determined pace with the rest of the team right behind. He was almost in a full trot, fired up by getting the green light to actually use his prey drive. He was so focused on his task that his brain did not fully register the new smell that wafted in the night air. He loped directly alongside and beyond another smell—a smell he was trained to detect and give warning for. When he got three meters past the odor, his danger awareness kicked in and he suddenly spun around. Todd was about to take a step towards the danger. Zip froze and pointed back at Todd, but the message did not immediately resonate, as Todd proceeded forward.
Zip barked and, taking a full running start, launched himself through the air back to where Todd and the rest of the squad were patrolling. At top speed and with sure aim, Zip flew directly into Todd’s chest with such a force that it knocked him backwards and into Fox and Boomer.
Todd caught Zip, and as he fell back into Fox, who fell into Boomer, who caught all three, he shouted, “Nobody move!” The ten of them froze in place.
Todd released his grip on Zip. The dog stood, planted his paws, and, with his whole body, rigidly pointed to an object within a meter of where Todd lay. Todd turned on his flashlight and could tell from the slightly mounded soil that it was a Russian-made PMN-2 antipersonnel mine with enough explosive charge to either kill or horribly wound at least two of them with one blast—especially in the narrow crevasse where they were sandwiched. Zip and Todd inched toward the mound and soon discovered the second mine. Then they slowly made their way to the end of the rock passage and looped back without finding any more surprises.
“That’s it Lieutenant Kelly,” Todd reported. “Just those two.” His chin sank and he looked contrite.
“That’s on me Lieutenant. I got Zip moving too quickly and was so focused on catching those bastards that I neglected to have him sweep for booby traps first. I should have known better.”
“It’s my fault, too, Petty Officer. My attention was on the walls in this pass and not on what was on the ground in front of us.”
“Awesome!” Boomer broke in sarcastically. “Now that we’ve established that we all suck, can we just hug it out and go get those sons of bitches? They owe me a new iPad!”
“Lieutenant Kelly,” R.J. asked, “do you want to blow these things in place?”
“No. Just mark them. I think those guys are on the run now so let’s not give any indication of position.”
As the team gathered themselves and prepared to move again, Abby quietly pulled Penman aside. “Scott, have you ever seen a dog do that before? I mean he stopped and threw himself into his master to prevent him from stepping on that mine.”
“I’ve never even heard of a dog doing something like that,” Penman said. “It’s not how they’re trained. They’re disciplined to identify and warn, not to intervene like that. Whatever Zip did, he did out of his pack drive and desire to protect the team.”
“Khodaye man (My God),” was all that Abby could muster in reply.
The team got out of the pass in the hillside and Zip was now back on the scent and in pursuit of Rabbani and his three accomplices. Zip adeptly moved back and forth, availing a sense of smell 600 times more sensitive than a human. Nadir Taraki’s distinctive scent was unmistakable and any attempts at feigning direction or other false movements were quickly discovered, and adjusted for. They were closing ground on Rabbani and his men, and Zip and the rest of the team could feel it.
It is physically harder to be the prey than to be the hunter, just as it is physically more demanding to play defense than offense in football. Rabbani, the Taraki brothers, and Hassan were feeling the pressure and quickly becoming exhausted. They had been told to make evasive maneuvers and lead the Americans on a goose chase, but their every trick was soon discovered and the distance between them and the Americans was diminishing. The noose was tightening. They were completely on the defensive and running for their lives. And yet they had to reach the safety of Bebiyal—on time—where Karmal and the rest of his forces would lie in wait to rescue them.
“We must get to Bebiyal and rest. The ruins will provide cover and there will be some supplies placed there in anticipation of our arrival,” Rabbani told his men. “We will have to hold out until Brother Karmal arrives. We have weapons and ammunition and we will be strong.” The words of encouragement from Tajwah Rabbani did not mask the tone of desperation in his voice.
“These guys are good, Lieutenant,” Todd said matter-of-factly as the SEALs continued their pursuit. “But this is good ground to track on. Zip has their scent and they have a bleeder. It’s only a matter of time. In fact I think we might only be a couple kilometers behind them.”
“Agreed. They have to be going here.” Kelly looked at his field map and pointed out the ruins of Bebiyal. We’ve funneled them into this area and that’s the only close place that might give them any cover. Let’s pick up the pace so they don’t have too much time to think once they get there.”
It was late morning by the time Rabbani reached Bebiyal and he and his colleagues were completely spent. They needed sleep and had not eaten in a full day. There was water and rations neatly concealed in the main structure of the ruins and overhead cover to protect them from the sun. Abdul Taraki checked his brother’s wound and Hassan collapsed in the corner.
“Tajwah, how could they have followed us like that?” Hassan said as he wiped the sweat from his face. “They followed our every move and did not fall for any of our diversions.”
“I do not know Wakil. We underestimated their ability to track us,” Rabbani responded calmly. He surveyed the path they had just come down, looking for any sign of pursuant movement.
As he watched the horizon and thought of the progressions they had made, it came to him. The dog. Then he said out loud, “It is the dog. They have a dog that is able to follow us. I saw it in Darbat when they found our weapons. You three stink and the dog can smell you.” He paused, eyes focused on the ridge above them. “I hope you had a good rest, because here they come.”