My Loyalty to Country and Team
Commander Heard and Agent Kennedy were impressed with Abby’s intelligence briefing. During his reconnaissance, he moved undetected throughout the villages within the Korengal. He triangulated the areas between the COP, Bebiyal, and COP Walker. He used much of the information that Rabbani had unwittingly given him on villages they had visited—those that were assisting the Taliban and those that were resisting. He followed a trail based on the terrain of the mountains and was able to anonymously mix, and discreetly gather further information about Taliban movements by speaking with nomadic herders. Finally, he conducted surveillance around a mountain ridge most likely to conceal Karmal and his men—eventually seeing patrols routinely depart and arrive. He also identified several cleverly concealed sentry posts.
Initially, Heard and Kennedy were skeptical when Abby conveyed his findings.
“Abdul, are you sure? Heard asked. “We have been all over this area. There are literally thousands of drone reconnaissance photographs. We have never found anything even remotely out of the ordinary here.”
“Maybe that should have been a clue,” Kennedy interrupted, as she munched on a protein bar. “Look at it, Commander.” She pulled out a map of the area along with the latest drone photos. “It’s quite a place. Look at how there’s still trees around the peak and a lot of usable cover. These meadows over here could be the exit area for a network of tunnels that allows them to come and go without drawing attention. This village, here, might not even be a real village—just a front to deflect suspicion.”
Heard asked Kelly to comment on the situation after giving him a chance to peruse the information. “Strategically, what do you think Lieutenant?”
“They chose wisely Commander. Depending on where we hit them, they could have a dozen ways out. We’ll need to make sure the strike force has bunker busters. Standard high explosive ordnance won’t do it. My team is going to need some time to ensure we get a proper target. That means taking Abby with us and moving around the area for a time before we call in the strike. Of course, the longer we’re there, the more likely we’ll be discovered.
“I recommend that we send in the First Squad initially to do the recon and paint the targets. Immediately after the airstrike, we’ll have the remainder of both SEAL Troops and 10th Mountain ready to clear as soon as the Air Force does their business.”
“Very well, Lieutenant,” Heard concurred. “Kennedy and I will get the plan approved by JSOC. They’re already in the loop and only need the details. Begin readying your team.”
Within a matter of hours, Heard and Kennedy contacted the Bagram Base Commander and the Joint Special Operations Command to discuss the operation designated as “Triton’s Hammer.” The team would almost immediately begin referring to it as “Tri-H.” The details were discussed and approved with Kelly, and the First Squad was designated as the insertion team. Once the team located the objective, they would paint the target with a Semi-Active Laser (SAL) homing system. Revolving squadrons of F-16s would be sortied above the area and, when notified, would deliver their ordnance consisting of BLU-109 Penetration Bombs designed to puncture six feet of hardened concrete before detonating their 500 pounds of high explosive. As soon as the F-16s complete the bombing run, ground forces would be flown in from Jalalabad to swarm the area and neutralize the remaining threat.
Once the plan was approved, Kelly met with the squad to brief them on their portion of the mission. The team would be inserted three kilometers from the target at 0200. They would then have time to get to the primary targeting position and begin reconnaissance of the immediate area and determine the optimal targeting position. They would be broken up into two targeting teams and a surveillance team. Todd, Boomer, and Doc Burk would be Alpha. R.J., Penman, and Fox would be Beta. Abby, Angel, and Kelly would be in an oversight and directional position giving cover to both targeting teams. At 0600, the F-16s would be called to make the bombing runs with the remaining ground teams covering by 0615. Kelly’s team would then join the arriving ground troops to clear the area and capture any remaining insurgents.
Todd listened closely to the plan. It was simple enough and he was sure that it would be effective when executed. But no matter how much he tried to concentrate on the task at hand, he could not get his mind off his partner who he was sure was still being held alive in the Taliban compound.
He knew that Kennedy was just playing a head game with him by saying they had killed Zip. He wasn’t buying it. If they took the time to put the dog on TV, they would keep him around to make another point if it became necessary. The only time they would get rid of Zip was if he became too aggressive, or was holding them up or making noise that drew unwanted attention. He knew Zip was too disciplined for any of that.
His mind wandered as he tried to think of a way he could get to Zip and get him out of there before the airstrike. He conceded, to himself, that it was next to impossible. There was no way he could jeopardize the mission and put the rest of the team at risk. The only possibility was for Zip to create his own opportunity—if he wasn’t killed in the airstrike—and get to an open area where he or someone else from the team to could get to him.
After Kelly finished the briefing and they were all back in the barracks, Todd called the remaining squad members together for their own meeting.
“Fellas, I’m telling you, Zip is alive,” Todd said, almost pleading as he spoke. “Just like I knew it at COP Walker. What the hell does that spook know? It’s just convenient for her to say he’s dead—now she can move on with her plan. We can’t leave him behind again or just let them kill him. Most of us owe our lives to him. We owe it to him to try.”
R.J. saw where the conversation was going and cut Todd off. “Todd, you know how we all feel about Zip, but you also know we can’t let that jeopardize the operation. I won’t allow you to put any of this team’s lives at risk to try and get him. We don’t know enough about the compound or the area.”
“I know Sr. Chief. I’m not asking anyone to disobey orders here. All I’m asking is, if an opportunity presents itself, that you give Zip the same consideration that you would give any one of us on the team. This operation is straight forward, but these things are often dynamic. We’ve all been there—they rarely go directly as planned. If there’s a chance, any chance at all, I’m asking you guys to help me take it.”
His words hung in the air. The members of the team knew that what Todd was asking was potentially dangerous, not only to them, but to their Navy careers. There was a very thin line here and they all knew that if Lieutenant Kelly even suspected that Todd was holding this conversation, he would pull him from the operation and possibly bring him up on insubordination charges. Kelly might even pull the entire squad from the mission.
Boomer moved first. Locking eyes with Todd, he rose to his feet and silently nodded in affirmation. Then each SEAL followed, leaving only R.J. and Todd seated. R.J. looked around the table, meeting each of them squarely in the eyes to gauge their intent. When he was convinced of their resolve, he looked across at Todd and nodded in fidelity.
The modified UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter sitting on the edge of the tarmac at Bagram Air Base was nearly unrecognizable. The chopper was equipped with stealth technology that minimized its radar profile and greatly reduced the noise from both rotors and engine. Todd was impressed by how nearly all of the sharp angles were softened and how, other than the whoosh of air caused by the idling engines and rotating blades, barely any sound seemed to be coming from the helicopter. The men of the team boarded the chopper in an efficient, business-like manner and at exactly 0100 they lifted off for the ride back into the Korengal Valley.
There was no conversation as they swept into the Hindu Kush, hugging the sides of the hills. Kelly silently watched each of his men, studying their faces in the dim red light of the helicopter cabin. His gaze lingered on Todd Mitchell, who sat motionless with his eyes closed, and he hoped he had not made a critical mistake by allowing him to join the mission. When they neared the designated landing zone in the Korengal, Lieutenant Kelly moved his hand in a circular motion while holding up one finger indicating to everyone that debark would be in one minute.
The Black Hawk smoothly swept into an open path between the mountains, and hovered twenty feet above the ground. The SEALs connected fast ropes to eyepads welded to the helicopter bulkheads and heaved them out of the side door. Then each man connected carabineers to the line and quietly slid from the chopper into the night. Within seconds of the last man hitting the ground and disconnecting from the line, the chopper pulled up and away from the team. Ten seconds after insertion, there was no trace that a helicopter had been in the area. The SEALs remained frozen as they scanned the landscape with their night vison gear, looking for any sign of movement in the countryside. When they were all satisfied they were indeed alone, they began moving towards Nur Mohammad Karmal’s compound.
Three kilometers away, a subtle noise roused Abdur Rahman from his light sleep. He stood and walked out into the night air, looking up at the stars and listening to verify whether his ears were playing tricks on him. A lifetime spent in the Hindu Kush hunting and being hunted had given him an extraordinary perception to detect even the most obscure variance in his environment.
In his cage not far from where Rahman was standing, Zip lifted his head from between his front paws, shifted his ears forward and tilted his head to the side as he strained to confirm the familiar sound he thought he just heard.
The men of SEAL Team 4 moved through the landscape covering the ground between the landing zone and the objective. The air was still and the sound of each step the men took on the shale stone slope seemed amplified. Kelly was taut as he continually assessed the situation. There was absolutely no indication of any movement around them. There was not a light or a fire in the village they passed, nor any indication of human or animal presence at all. The eventless trek had his mind working overtime. Kelly was beginning to wonder whether Abby had identified the correct location.
As they came up on the place that Abby had scouted, they crept along the outskirts of the small village identified in the surveillance photographs. It was as dead as every other local on the route. When they reached the top of a ridge, Abby called Lieutenant Kelly over.
“There it is Lieutenant. One of the entrances is there, on the right about three quarters up the mountainside. There is no doubt a bunker and cave complex within. I found two other entrances—one two hundred meters farther to the right and another on the other side of the hill. Look, there is a sentry at the first entrance. You can barely see him, but he is smoking.”
“OK,” Kelly said. “Let’s move into our positions. Angel, we need to get to that escarpment up the hill. We should have a good vantage point for both entrances. R.J., get your team’s eyes on the entrances we can see. Mitchell, move yours over to an adjacent sightline. We’ll target that entrance from both angles. Once you get in position, sit tight and wait until it’s time to light this place up. After the first run, shift the target to the second identified entrance. After they pound it, we will bring in the backup.”
Just before they all split up, Todd looked at R.J., hoping for some sign of reassurance that he was still committed to the course of action they agreed to back at Bagram. R.J. gave no such indication, but simply spun away and moved towards his designated spot with Penman and Fox. As Todd watched them walk away, Boomer snapped him back to the task at hand. “Let’s get going, pal. Pretty soon the Air Force boys are going to be looking for something to do.”