The Execution of My Duties
Two weeks before the squads were scheduled to be deployed to the Korengal Valley and their designated combat outpost, Commander Heard unexpectedly called the men of the Second Platoon together in the situation room assigned to the SEALs and the Joint Special Operations Command near the SEAL team barracks at Bagram.
“Gentlemen this is Jennifer Kennedy. Her name doesn’t matter because she doesn’t exist anyway. We have some work to do before you head to the field.”
Without waiting for further introduction, Kennedy stepped in front of the group. She pressed a remote control and a picture of an ordinary looking Afghani or Pakistani man appeared on the middle screen of the three TVs at the front of the room.
“This is Kahlil Gul,” She began. “He is one of the chief financiers for the Taliban and he is paying a visit to Kabul tomorrow. We have reliable intel that gives us his time and a meeting point. You are going to get him for us. Commander Heard will give you all the ops detail.”
Kennedy stepped to the side and Heard again moved to the front of the room. “This is going to be a quick grab. Intelligence has learned that there is a group of Saudis and Pakistanis that have a vested interest in continuing to finance the Tali. We know that Gul is the guy taking the funds and funneling them through various Swiss and Cayman accounts. He then moves the money to a group of former KGB and Chinese arms dealers. The weapons are then smuggled through Pakistan and into Afghanistan.
“Tomorrow, he is meeting with a Saudi contact that CIA has eyes on. When the meeting is done, the CIA will continue to tail the Saudi to gather further information on his network. He is not the target. We want Gul. He is near the end of his intelligence usefulness and it is time to bring him in for interrogation so CIA can glean further information from him and continue to piece together the Tali network in the country.
“This is what we are going to do. Once the meeting is finished, the intel contact in Kabul will confirm his exit route.” He clicked the remote control and a map of Kabul appeared on the right-hand screen. “Our source tells us the meeting will be held near the northwest corner of the city. If correct, we will be able to catch him—here.” He pointed to a circle on the map. “This is the intersection of Tajikan Road and Kohistan Road. This vacant lot to the west,” he pointed to another circle, “is a great area to put a chopper down and whisk him away. It also gives our team an easy escape route out of the city. We will insert Second Squad to cut him off, snatch him off the street, and move him to the extraction point where the helo will be waiting to get him back here for interrogation. The Master Chief will lead the insertion team.”
The Master Chief Petty Officer of whom Heard spoke was William “Wild Bill” Kerski. Todd knew him well, and he was one of the toughest SEALs he had ever met. Kerski was no-nonsense. Todd could never recall a time when he saw him smile. What he lacked in personality, he made up for with brilliant leadership, however, and he was beloved by the men of the team. He constantly reminded them of their purpose and continually worked with all the men of the platoon on their combat skills and individual disciplines. Todd recalled once when Boomer was doing his usual “goofing off” act during a training exercise, Wild Bill got fed up hurled a Humvee tire at him. He was not a man to be trifled with. Boomer learned his lesson the hard way as it took a couple of weeks for the bruising on his chest to go away.
Commander Heard continued his briefing over the next hour. First Squad’s role in the mission would be to act as backup, in case anything went wrong, and remain on standby at Bagram. Lieutenant Kelly would stay with Commander Heard in the situation room and R.J. would lead the reserve squad if they were called upon.
The Second Squad would be inserted just on the edge of Kabul near the intersection that Heard described. As Gul and his party approached the point, the CIA informant would give the word and Second Squad would block the path from both sides of the street with a couple of armored Mercedes SUVs, the type typically used as diplomatic transport. Once they had Gul, they would speed to the open field where the Black Hawk helicopter would be waiting to take Gul back to Bagram.
The team held a final briefing the day of the operation. Second Squad would depart at 1100 in civilian clothing. First Squad would remain in uniform and ready if their backup was needed. They anticipated the Saudi meeting would be over sometime between afternoon and evening prayer when slightly less traffic could be expected. They were ready.
Second Squad departed in the SUVs to move to their intercept positions. The extraction Black Hawk and backup sat on the tarmac outside the situation room. Drone reconnaissance was deployed above the area of operation and Heard, Kennedy, and Kelly went to the Situation Room to watch the operation unfold.
First Squad waited outside hoping they would not be needed. While Angel, R.J., and Doc sprawled on lawn chairs, Radar and Fox dealt cards for rummy. Todd picked up a bat and tossed a whiffle ball at Boomer, who pitched while Penman acted as umpire and announcer. Zip stayed at Todd’s side and each time he hit the ball, Zip sprinted after it, catching almost every fly ball before it hit the ground.
“Does he have to slobber all over it?” Boomer said as Zip retrieved another ball and returned it to him. Then he made a big gesture of wiping the ball and his hand off on his pants.
“Why does that bother you?” Todd said. “You’re just using all that spit to put more spin on the ball anyway.”
“Uhn-uh. That’s all me, Son. No additives needed to strike you out.”
Boomer wound up once again and delivered a pitch that Todd nailed, and it shot out onto the tarmac too hard and too fast for Zip to catch this time.
“Eat that, Stocky!” Todd exclaimed as he flipped the bat and pretended to run the bases at a deliberate trot, staring Boomer down the whole time.
“Keep it up hot shot. The next one’s coming straight for your head.”
“Hey, quiet!” R.J. broke in, pointing to his radio headpiece. “Troops in contact! The grab went bad! Let’s go!”
The squad grabbed their gear and headed to the helicopter, which was already powering up its engines. Todd and Zip were the first ones in. As the squad put on their headphones so they could be heard above the noise of the helicopter rotors, Angel started pressing R.J. for the details.
“What the hell happened?”
“Info’s still coming in. Somehow the Tali got tipped off. They hit one of the SUVs with an RPG round and we have wounded. The second SUV with the Master Chief got cut off and they’re in a firefight. We need to get the wounded out and get to the Chief.”
“Who’s with him?” Todd asked.
“Hill and Raddock.”
The helicopter made the trip to the edge of Kabul in under five minutes.
“Put us down as close to the action as you can,” R.J. ordered the pilot.
The extraction helicopter moved in formation with the first and descended at the designated point. First Squad could now see the remainder of Second Squad; they had formed a makeshift perimeter and were fighting off a band of attacking insurgents. It looked like they were trying to advance and get to Kerski, Hill, and Raddock while dealing with their wounded. There was just no way they were going to leave without all of their team.
The Black Hawk touched down and First Squad immediately joined the fight.
“Check right!” R.J. said to Todd and Boomer as they bailed out of the helicopter with their weapons at the ready. The rest of the squad moved forward, ready to provide support.
The helicopter lifted back off and the side door gunner opened up with much-needed covering fire, allowing the First Squad to reach the second.
“Status!” R.J. shouted at the chief petty officer holding the Second Squad together.
“We’ve got a few scratches but we’re going back for the Master Chief. He’s trapped in that second building on the right. We saw at least ten of those bastards go in after him.”
“Never saw him. They ambushed us just as we moved the SUVs into position. I doubt he was ever here.”
“They’ve got more than scratches,” Doc said as he worked to triage the wounded. “R.J., these guys can’t fight. Look at ’em. I’ve got at least two fractures and one guy with arterial bleeding. The CPO’s ear is barely hanging on his damned head.”
“Copy that,” R.J said as he turned back to the CPO. “Listen to me!” he screamed. “I’m taking over here. You get back to the extraction zone with Doc. He’ll look after your team. We’ll get the Master Chief.”
“No way!” the CPO screamed back at him and again turned his attention to the building with the Master Chief.
“Look at your men! Look at them!” R.J. grabbed his shoulder and spun him around to see the carnage behind him. “You can’t do anything more. You get them back or we’ll need body bags.”
He was done trying to bring the CPO to his senses and, without waiting for an answer, R.J. took over. “Doc, you and Fox get these guys back to the extraction point. See what you can do for them. Boomer and Todd, take Zip with you and head into that building. Find the Master Chief, Hill, and Raddock, and get them out of there. Penman and Angel will cover your entrance. Radar and I will provide cover from here while you’re on the move and during evac. Now go!”
The squad was in motion before R.J. finished his sentence. The insurgents attacking Second Squad had backed off when they saw reinforcements arrive. Now the street was eerily quiet as the SEALs moved down past the burning SUVs to the identified building. It was an abandoned, two-story concrete building that looked as if it had been a small apartment complex at one time. When they got to the front entrance, they could see that the main door was barely hanging on the hinges. There was no noise coming from inside.
“Angel, you and Penman find some cover where you got eyes on the whole front of this building. Cut down anyone who tries to follow us,” Boomer instructed.
Boomer half-whispered to Todd and glanced down at Zip, “Let’s go, quiet. If there’s any left in there, let’s not advertise ourselves.”
Todd confirmed the instruction with a nod.
The front door was ajar and the three SEALs slipped through the entrance, disappearing into the darkness of the main hallway. Boomer put his fist in the air indicating a stop, to give them a minute for their eyes to adjust from the bright sunshine to the dimness of the windowless hallway where they now stood.
Zip and Todd paid attention to Boomer’s hand signals and when they were ready to move again he led them stealthily through the first floor of the building. As they reached a staircase to the second floor, they saw insurgent bodies strewn about the steps. Slowly and gingerly the three tread over and around the bodies as they climbed the stairs, taking care to ensure there was no movement and no insurgent playing ’possum. Todd kept a silent count as they ascended into the second floor hallway. There were five combatant bodies in the stairwell and an additional three in the hall.
The doors to the vacant one-room apartments were slightly ajar. Todd motioned for Zip to push each open a little wider with his nose so they could get a better look inside as they made their way down the corridor. They saw no one, but the last two doors were completely closed. As they approached the second to last apartment, they could smell something burning and heard a hissing sound from inside. Boomer checked the door for heat and then tried the knob. The door was not locked. Boomer gave a silent count—one, two, three—and they rapidly shoved open the door and ducked inside with Boomer breaking left and Todd and Zip breaking right. Boomer swept the room, scanning each corner with his weapon at the ready, while Todd and Zip checked behind the door.
There were four bodies. One of them was Wild Bill. He sat propped up in a corner of the room with his eyes wide open, still looking straight at the entrance. Boomer kneeled and checked for a pulse. There was none. Todd and Zip assessed the others. They were all insurgents and they were all dead. One had two bullet wounds to his chest. The broken blade of a field knife protruded from the ribcage of another, and the last was smoldering. The fluorescent red flame of a signaling flare crackled and glowed from under what was left of his shirt, as the flare burned to its end. The smell coming from the body was putrid.
Boomer started to take account of the situation. “His weapon is empty,” he said as he picked up Wild Bill’s handgun from the floor. “He must have used his last rounds on the guy by the door.”
Todd rolled the second body on its side. “Looks like he broke his knife off in this one.”
The three of them stood over the third body, but Zip backed away, annoyed by the smell and the hiss.
“What the hell did he do to this one?” Boomer said.
“Looks like he took him out with the only thing he had left. Look at his face. His eyes are nearly burnt away.” Todd bent and picked up the Russian-made handgun lying next to the body. “This guy still has a couple rounds in his Makarov. The Master Chief must have already been shot when he took the guy down with him. Then he crawled back to the corner thinking he could still cover the entrance somehow.”
“Jeezuhs,” Boomer said. “But where the hell are Hill and Raddock?”
Zip wasn’t paying attention to Todd or Boomer or the bodies on the floor anymore. He was staring out the open door and across the hallway. Then Todd heard it, too, and placed his fingers to his lips. A thumping sound was coming from the last closed apartment. Boomer and Todd immediately raised their weapons in response. They crept across the hallway and took positions outside the door and listened as the muffled pounding sound continued. Boomer nodded at Todd, who moved beside him, and then kicked open the door. Todd shot through, ready to fire at any threat.
Inside stood Jack Hill and Dan Raddock. They were startled when the door flew off its hinges and caught completely off guard when Todd, Zip, and Boomer charged in. They had been too engaged in what they were doing.
An Afghani girl, not more than sixteen or seventeen from the look of her, was curled in a ball on the floor beneath them. One eye, black and blue, was swollen shut. Ugly bruises covered her face and arms, there was a gash across her cheek, and blood ran from her nose and the corners of her mouth. She had obviously been beaten almost senseless.
“What the hell is going on here?” Todd screamed.
“Stay out of this Mitchell,” Hill said through clenched teeth. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“The hell it doesn’t!”
“This bitch set us up!” Raddock said angrily. “She spotted for them, gave the CIA the wrong route, and they were waiting for us with a decoy. She knew everything!”
The girl on the floor was a bloody mess. She raised one hand up and cried in pain, and in English, “No. No. Please!”
“How do you know that, Raddock?” Boomer said.
Hill spoke again. “It was obvious. When we got to the intercept point, she was supposed to ID Gul’s car. The one she pointed out was full of Tali ready to hit us. They took out the back Mercedes with an RPG and then cut us off in the forward position. We barely made it inside when they sent those bastards out there after us. They threw a grenade down the hall and me and Dan jumped in here and the Master Chief in that room. This bitch just happened to be hiding in here after she tipped them off and obviously didn’t know we would be coming. Now she’s going to pay for what she did to us, for what she did to Wild Bill.”
“Let her go,” Todd said. “That story’s weak. Let’s get her back to Bagram and let them decide.”
“Bullshit!” Hill screamed as he grabbed the moaning girl by the hair and pulled her up off the floor with one hand, his other fist raised to continue where they’d left off.
“Let her go, dammit!” Todd raised his voice and looked at Zip to signal an attack. “Let her go or I’ll turn the dog loose on the both of you.”
“You keep that hair missile away from me Mitchell. You’re not stopping this.”
Zip was confused but the hair on his back was up. He knew these men. They were part of his platoon. He had played with them and drilled with them back in Virginia and here in Afghanistan. He liked Hill and Raddock. He was about to receive a command to attack his own team.
Boomer, stunned, stood motionless. But when he saw that Todd was determined he took a step forward, and firmly put his arm across Todd’s chest.
Todd looked at Boomer with more than a little surprise, and then he saw the look on his friend’s face. Boomer believed Hill and Raddock.
Boomer looked Todd squarely in the eye and then shifted his gaze across to the room containing the Master Chief’s body, and shook his head.
Todd stared back at Boomer for a second, looked down at Zip, and then exhaled deeply. Then he looked at Hill and Raddock, and finally at the girl. Her beaten face, filled with terror, pain, and desperation, silently pleaded for help.
Without a word, Todd spun toward the door and exited down the hallway, followed by Zip and Boomer. As they reached the top of the stairs, he heard the pounding start up again. He kept walking, eyes forward, Zip at his heel.
When they exited the building, Boomer signaled all clear. Angel and Penman left their cover and darted up to the three of them.
“The Master Chief is dead,” Boomer said, jaw set. “Hill and Raddock are with him. They’re OK. Stay here and cover the entrance. We’re going to get a body bag.”
As they left the other SEALs and began walking down the street, a single gunshot rang out from inside the building.