Al Ueid Air Base, Qatar
05:10 (02:10 GMT)
The Gulfstream landed at Al Ueid Air Base and taxied to the end of the runway. Off to the right, were multiple rows of C- 130’s and C-5 Galaxy’s waiting for duty in perfect formation. The jet came to rest outside one of two hangars at the northern most part of the tarmac. Blake gathered his things, thanked the pilots and exited the plane.
Since its construction in the mid-ninety’s, the base has been run jointly by the United States Air Force, Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and the Qatari Air Force. It now served primarily as a logistics and basing hub for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
An officer of the Royal Air Force stood by to greet him. “Mr. MacKay, I’m Colonel John Smyth, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He held out and shook Blake’s hand and continued. “Commander Jameson sends his apologies for not being here to meet you, but he had pressing matters that demanded his attention. He’s asked me to liaise with you in his stead and prepare you for your mission.”
Blake nodded and followed the colonel out the hangar’s side door. Blake threw his gear in the back of the Humvee. After a short ride to the administration buildings, Colonel Smyth showed Blake to his quarters.
“I hope you find this to your satisfaction.”
The room was small and as vanilla as they come. Bunk, locker, desk, lamp.
“It’s fine, Colonel. Thanks.”
“I know its short notice, but we need to talk. My office, five minutes.”
“That’s fine, Colonel. I’ll see you then.”
Precisely five minutes later, Blake walked into the Colonel’s office. It was a bland office with a desk, a small beige couch with two other chairs and a coffee table. To his right was a round conference table with four metal chairs with green vinyl padding. A giant map of Afghanistan hung from the wall. It measured nearly two meters wide by one and a half meters tall.
Since it was an office that changed its occupants from different commands rather routinely, there were very little personal effects, save for a picture of the colonel’s family on his desk. The Brit was standing behind the conference table reviewing the map when Blake entered.
“Mr. MacKay, come in. Please.” The colonel made a gesture with his hand for Blake to have a seat at the table.
“Please Colonel, call me Blake.”
“Very well. You may still call me, Colonel.”
Blake raised his eyebrows, somewhat taken aback from the colonel’s less than friendly response, but he quickly dismissed it and listened to his briefing.
They sat at the table and the colonel handed Blake a stack of files. “These are all dossiers on the men that will make up your team once you land in Afghanistan.” The stack of folders was fifteen to twenty files thick.
“Why so many? Blake asked. “I gathered from the intel I read on the plane that there would be no more than ten of al Hamwi’s men; eleven, in the off chance that al Hamwi is actually there.”
The Colonel replied, “There are currently four A-teams of ANA Special Forces. Each team is made up of fifteen soldiers with at least one woman.”
A wry smile crossed the colonel’s face. He cleared his throat as if for dramatic effect. “Do you know—why there is a woman on each team, Mr. MacKay?”
What’s with this guy’s arrogance? Not missing a beat he replied,” because of their culture, if there are any women that might need to be searched or handled, it wouldn’t be a violation of their religious beliefs if another woman did the search.”
The Colonel’s smile disappeared. Blake hoped that the arrogant jerk felt somewhat defeated.
“That’s correct. As you can imagine, these types of things need to be handled quite delicately.”
“Right. If I may, I’d like to look through these dossiers and break the team down to about five or six.”
The Colonel leaned back in his chair and said, “It’s your call Blake. It’s your mission. But do know that they are all very well trained by your own Special Forces teams and much of it came on the job. They have proven themselves to be trustworthy and will fight to the death if necessary. No cowering wimps among that lot.”
I’ll believe that, when I see it.
The colonel was referring to problems that the U.S. and Royal Army had with many of the soldiers that were initially trained to aid in the fighting of the Taliban and al Qaeda. On several occasions Afghan fighters were found cowering in ditches hiding instead of fighting. It was also reported that during a fight in 2009 when the Taliban attacked a fort, the Afghan soldiers ran away and hid under their beds and stole the personal property of American Soldiers that were out fighting hand-to-hand to defend the outpost.
Eight U.S. soldiers died that day and many more were wounded. Stories like this made Blake think about what kind of trust factor he could put on these men; and woman. Right about now, they were at about twenty, and that wasn’t good. He’d have to go through their dossiers closely and then make his choices.
“Blake, let me point out a few things for you.” He stood up and grabbed a laser pointer. “We’re currently here.” The light flickered on the map where the airbase was located.
“Right. I studied the map while I was on the plane. Show me in more detail where you think al Hamwi might be located and where I’m to meet up with our asset.”
The Colonel smiled an unfriendly smile. The kind where the lips made the movement, but the eyes said something entirely different. Blake didn’t care. If they guy was going to be rude or a jerk to him, then he could dish it right back.
“Right.” He moved the pointer to another coordinate. “This is where we suspect they might be located.” He moved the pointer again. “And, this is where you will meet your asset. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere and there shouldn’t be anyone for miles. Whilst you make your decent, he’ll be arriving in an old lorry and will take you into Sabzawar where you will meet up with the team you assemble”
“All right. How soon do you need my recommendations?”
“Three days ago.” The Colonel’s eyes squinted in a manner that looked as if he was apologizing.
Blake let out a heavy sigh. Wonderful. “Great! I’ll get them to you as soon as possible.”
It was a little under fourteen hundred kilometers to his jump point and the flight would take about two and a half hours, plus another thirty minutes to get on the ground. He would leave that night at twenty-three hundred hours, with him scheduled to touch down on the ground at Oh two-hundred.
He would use the next couple of days for reconnaissance and planning and was to report in his findings and wait for his orders before making any kind of assault.
Blake read the dossiers, carefully looking for anything that would help him to get to know the fourteen men and one woman better and increase their trust factor with him. He was looking particularly for those that had personal tragedies that involved the Taliban, al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.
Whenever there was a personal tragedy like a family member getting killed or being tortured by one of these groups, there was usually no room for sympathy and there was almost always a burning desire for some kind of vengeance. Blake also knew that there was a high rate of illiteracy in the country, so that meant that just having the basics of being able to read and communicate was essential. Ideally, all of them would be fluent in English.
As it turned out, Colonel Smyth was right. They all had proven themselves worthy on the battlefield, so now Blake needed to make his decisions on whom to choose to make up his team. He needed to make sure that his team was well rounded, so he chose five to make a total of six, including himself.
Amongst the five were two medics, one sniper, one demolitions expert and the one woman, who surprisingly was the team’s expert in hand-to-hand combat. “That might come in useful,” Blake said out loud. He got up, walked down the hall and presented his team to the colonel.
Back in his quarters, he changed clothes and went for a five mile run outside, to get his body acclimated to the searing heat. It was only ten in the morning, but the temperature was already in the thirties, Celsius. The heat further solidified his hate of running. After his run, he went into the gym and worked out with some weights and used the heavy bag. After his workout and shower, Blake’s stomach growled, so he sought out the mess hall.
A body sat across from him as he focused on his plate. “I’ve been in contact with your asset and he is assembling the team and getting the additional equipment that you requested.”
Blake glanced up from his plate, “Thank you, Colonel.”
The colonel leaned forward and asked, “So, what are your feelings on all of this? Do you think al Hamwi is there? What is it that you think they are up to?”
Blake put his fork down, took a sip of water and said, “I don’t know, Colonel. That’s what I’m here to find out. I’m a bit concerned that al Hamwi hasn’t been seen for a while and I’m also concerned that there is still a missing agent out there that hasn’t been heard from in over two weeks.”
“Do you think al Hamwi had anything to do with that?” The colonel asked.
“I don’t know that either, but my gut feeling says yes. Whether al Hamwi is there or not, I plan on finding out what he is up to and I hope to find out what happened to our agent.”
“But Blake, that isn’t part of your mission.”
Blake stared deep into the colonel’s eyes. He felt anger rolling up through him at the hint that he should somehow forget about one of his colleagues. “Colonel, no disrespect sir, but I don’t give a rats ass if it’s part of my mission or not. Somewhere out there, dead or alive, is an American that is missing, and I plan to find out what happened to him. I would certainly hope to God, that if I was in his shoes, someone would do the same for me.”
The colonel sternly said, “None taken, but your military is looking for him. Your orders are to observe and take down al Hamwi’s men and hopefully al Hamwi. Then you are to gather any intel. This isn’t a search and rescue mission. Do we understand one another Mr. Mackay?”
Blake felt a tingle in his head. Something about the colonel raised his ire. He wanted to let loose and tell the arrogant prick to shove it, but honestly, what good would it do? It would surely warrant a call by the colonel that would eventually make its way back to Mike. Or worse, to Veronica, which would just give her fodder to give his boss hell. He decided to take the high road and let it run off his back.
He shoved the remaining food in his mouth and chewed while the colonel looked on. “Perfectly.”
Blake stood and grabbed his tray.
“Excuse me, Colonel. I need to get my things and prepare for my trip.”
He turned and walked away. Finding the missing agent wasn’t part of his mission, but he didn’t care. He would look for him. He would most definitely follow the orders for his mission and complete it successfully, but if he found out any other intel on the latter and the opportunity presented itself, he would take full advantage of it. Blake left the mess hall and went back to his quarters. He called Mike to report in about his team and the current situation.