Only the scorpions sensed death approaching and raised up their poisonous stings in protection. Six black shadows descended from the night sky. There was a rapid clobbering of shoes and a soft hissing of parachutes folded. Six men moved silently across the stony ground.
Two hours before daybreak, the group reached the crossroads and pulled night vision goggles over their eyes. The windows of the house looked like the hollow eye sockets of a skull against the lighter background of the still warm walls. The light reflecting from the windshield of the minivan parked in front of the house was particularly uninviting.
They had thought of everything except that their targets would use the minivan to cover the front door to the house. They stood still for a moment, waiting. Nothing moved inside. The commander pointed to the smallest man in the group and gestured, “Go round the house and inspect the van.”
Two other men took covering positions behind the corners of the adjacent buildings, their machine guns aimed at the windows. The rest watched as their comrade circled the house from left to right, rounding the far corner with his hand raised: “Everything is OK.”
Without uttering a word, the commander gestured his confirmation of “Plan A”, which they agreed upon back on the plane: “I go first, you two follow me. Make sure they don’t escape from the side and back windows.”
Later the six men would ask themselves what had betrayed their presence to the drug smugglers besieged in the house. A second before they crashed through the door and stormed inside, the windows suddenly lit by the tiny flames of fierce shooting. Bullets splintered the door, the windows of the minivan shattered.
Still, the defenders in the house were helpless against the intelligence which invisible eyes traced them from the southern province of Helmand, across Ghor and Sar-e-Pol to the capital of Balkh, bringing these legendary commandos to their doorstep. While the drug smugglers were shooting rounds of fire into the front door, a fleeting shadow appeared at the only window on the eastern side of the house. Standing on the shoulders of two of his comrades, the smallest member of the group shot three instant double-tapping rounds. Three of the surrounded men collapsed on the earthen floor, but the other two did not notice them. Encouraged by the total silence behind the door, they assumed they had killed the attackers, and rushed out. Both were dead even before their bodies hit the minivan and slumped over one another.
The commander stooped and pulled a small canvas bag from the clenched fist of one of the smugglers. Something rattled inside. He was curious as to the reason for taking the lives of five strangers and risking their own.
He was disappointed because the night vision goggles proved to be useless, although the greenish image was clear as a crystal. The angular pictographs on the ancient clay tablet he was holding between his thumb and forefinger meant nothing to him.