THE WIND STREAMED STEADILY through the Korangal Valley below. The same place had been given the nickname, the valley of death, by US troops during the most long-drawn-out war in American history. With intense fighting between the coalition and the Taliban, it had become one of the most dangerous places in the world. With its different tribes and no law besides a council of elders, the Valley had created tension between the locals and the US military for years.
But that was now in the past. With a different mission, Special Forces didn’t need tribal permission to operate there any longer. ISIS had set up shop within the surrounding mountains. It was no longer a matter of winning over hearts and minds. This time, the mission was strictly to hunt and destroy.
Beneath the gray, hazy sky, the breeze waved high grass and branches from side to side beneath snow-capped mountains. Sergeant First Class Rob Walker, thirty-two, and his spotter, Staff Sergeant Kyle Branch, thirty, lay prone on that rugged mountainside six hundred meters above a suspected Islamic State stronghold.
ISIS had wreaked havoc in Iraq a few years prior until the coalition had forced them out. Now they were trying to spread their destructive message across the rest of the world. And it was well known to the US Government that they were hiding in small pockets across Afghanistan and into parts of Pakistan.
A small network of Special Forces and Special Operations had remained in the country to hunt down remaining ISIS fighters well after the US began its official withdrawal from Afghanistan. They were to also provide firepower against the Taliban should a peace agreement fail to materialize. Now, here they were, doing what they did best.
Walker was a third-generation military man. His father had served in Vietnam, and his grandfather had served in World War II. Coming from the mean streets of Brooklyn, his family understood why he left. He felt he was always destined to do bigger things. And that he did.
Walker and Branch were positioned to provide cover for the Special Forces team as they prepared to clear the remote, Afghan village of all militants. They were also tasked with the elimination of one of their top Lieutenants. The Special Forces had fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda for years. However, the Islamic State took brutality to a whole new level. They were vicious. The coalition could not allow ISIS to rebuild and gain a foothold in Afghanistan. Their plans to regroup and infiltrate western society had to be stopped, at any cost.
The rest of the US Army Special Forces team, ODA-595 (Operational Detachment Alpha-595), waited in position. On the other side of the Valley, Walker took a look through the glass of his .50 Caliber, Barrett sniper rifle, bipod resting firmly on the flat rock surface between the brown shrubs. With a maximum effective range of eighteen-hundred meters, the gun was the ideal weapon for long-range targets in the Afghan Mountains.
Intelligence had received a tip-off from a confidential source that ISIS leaders had ordered the village takeover to establish a permanent terrorist training camp. The villagers were either run off or shot. Most of the women had been taken as captives to serve as sex slaves for ISIS members.
They’d also gotten a report that ISIS had a hostage, an American journalist who’d embedded with one of the Ranger battalions operating in the AO (Area of operations). She’d been given the codename: Scribe. Her rescue was a mission priority.
Walker held the butt of the rifle pressed into his shoulder while he adjusted the tan sniper veil stretched up over his body.
“I don’t see a damn thing,” Branch said to Walker as he glanced through his spotting scope.
“Yeah,” Walker replied in his New York accent as he scratched the side of his beard, his tan cap turned backward. “I wasn’t expected it to be this fucking quiet.”
Walker spat a stream of Copenhagen to the side, keeping the glass directly in his vision.
Branch took another look through the scope as Walker brought his mouthpiece closer to his lips.
“Alpha-6,” he called out over the radio. “You see anything from over there? We got Nothing at this spot, over.”
“Negative,” Detachment Commander, Captain Wells, twenty-eight, answered. “Nothing on this end, yet. Hold position, over.”
“Roger that, boss,” Walker replied as he held his trigger finger straight over the trigger guard.
Captain Jonathan Wells had been a West Point cadet, graduating in the top ten percent of his class. After serving in the Ranger Regiment for a stretch, he went to Special Forces selection. Upon graduating, Wells was sent straight to the 5th Special Forces Group after his promotion to Captain and given his team assignment. Most of the men had already been together for a while, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan on numerous deployments. But Wells was surely gaining their confidence.
But, nobody on the team had more combat experience than Walker did, which was why they trusted him to watch their backs.
“Weren’t they supposed to be here already?” Branch asked Walker.
“That’s what the intel guys said,” Walker replied. “But since when are they ever on point? It makes you wonder why they call it intelligence. I hope this so-called informant isn’t leading us into a trap.”
“You can say that again.”
Walker scanned the village below, shifting his rifle from right to left. He searched for any sign of movement through the oddly shaped windows and in between the mud-brick buildings.
“Something’s off,” Walker said. “The place seems deserted. I don’t like it one damn bit.”
“Roger that,” Branch replied. “Think they knew we were coming?”
“I certainly hope not. If the source gave us up, I would deal with his ass myself.”
Branch shifted his spotting scope right. Suddenly, he saw sand swirling in the distance.
“Wait,” he stated. “I got something over here.”
Branch zoomed the scope to get a better look.
“What you got?” Walker asked as he rotated his weapon toward the cloud of dust.
“Looks like three vehicles,” replied Branch.
Walker followed their movement in his rifle scope. “That’s them,” he said to his spotter. “See the black flags on the antennas?”
“Yeah, I see ’em.”
Walker keyed the mic attached to his headset.
“Alpha-6,” he called out. “We got three technicals over here. An unknown number of occupants with attached heavy machine-guns. Please advise over.”
“Roger, Alpha-3,” Captain Wells answered. “I got them. Just sit tight and let’s see what they do. I repeat, hold fire. Wait for my signal. Then we’ll crash their party.”
“That’s a good copy, Alpha-6.”
The Captain and Assistant Detachment Commander, Chief Warrant Officer Dylan Henderson, and Team Sergeant, Master Sergeant Brian Hobbs, took cover behind a low brick wall. The rest of the twelve-man team followed suit beside them a couple of hundred meters from the site.
Walker and Branch watched as three white Nissan pickups came to a sudden stop at the village’s edge. As the men began hopping from the vehicles, Walker caught something he wished he hadn’t seen.
“Jesus,” he said, watching a row of civilians, hoods over their heads and arms bound behind their backs as they were thrown from the bed of the truck and forced at gunpoint through the entrance to one of the buildings. “Are you seeing this?”
“Yeah,” replied Branch. “Fucking bastards.”
“Alpha-6,” Walker said into the radio. “They have multiple hostages. I say again; they are forcing six civilian captives into the house. It looks like they are getting ready for an execution. I am unable to identify our Scribe. But it looks like ten, maybe twelve hostiles, including our star, Abbas. The civilians are in the way. I have no clear shot on him.”
Adeel Abbas was the ISIS leader in Afghanistan. His people and enemies alike called him the lion due to his being ruthless with his chosen torture methods. No captive who’d ever been alone in a room with him had ever come out alive. He’d been targeting civilians for a while, even ripping young boys from their homes and forcing them to fight for him. Walker’s team was there to remedy the problem. They had to deal with Abbas, one way or the other. No dead or alive this time. USASOC (United States Army Special Operations Command) wanted his head on a platter.
Abbas moved around a lot, never sleeping in the same place twice. They had no idea when they’d ever get a second chance at him. He had to be dealt with now.
“I just lost visual on ’em,” Walker continued. “They’ve moved inside the buildings, over.”
“God damn it,” Wells replied. “Roger that.”
Walker took another glimpse through his scope, squinting his non-dominant eye while examining the space surrounding the trucks.
“What you going to do?” His spotter asked.
“Alpha-6,” he continued. “They left two guys guarding the trucks over here. Let me send these assholes to Allah so you guys can move in.”
“Roger, Alpha-3. Send it. Make it fast.”
Swiftly, the team heard a single gunshot coming from inside the house.
“Damn it!” Walker said as he aimed with his rifle, the suppressor fixed to the end of the barrel. “Seems they’ve already started.”
He breathed in slowly and exhaled, pausing his breath as the reticle rested center mass of the guy’s chest. The tip of his finger pressed against the trigger, Walker squeezed off a round. The bullet soared toward its intended target, splashing red mist against the vehicle’s side. His body fell to the earth.
“Tango down,” said Walker.
Walker slid the bolt backward and ejected a single piece of brass. Catching it in mid-air, he rammed another round into the chamber with one forward motion, pushing the bolt knob down into its locked position.
Walker blinked his eyes to focus his vision, glaring back into the rifle scope. Noticing the red color splashed onto the truck’s bed, the second militant began strolling toward his dead partner, lying in the dirt on the other side of the vehicle.
“I don’t think so,” Walker uttered under his breath.
Walker followed him with his rifle scope as he rambled along in the dead man’s direction. Finger over the trigger, he squeezed and watched as the man’s dome was split apart by the high-powered bullet. Banging his head on the tailgate and leaving a patch of blood dripping to the ground, he dropped toward the ground with a loud thud.
“Fuck me,” Walker said. “Somebody had to of heard that.”
“Roger that,” The Captain said. “No time to wait. We’re moving in.”
“Watch your backs, Alpha-6. I can’t cover you once you are inside.”
Walker and his spotter observed through the glass. The rest of the team moved to the occupied structure’s side, hugging the wall beneath the window. He held the scope on the front entrance. Suddenly, the wooden door opened, and a single fighter appeared, lighting up a cigarette in the doorway.
“Alpha-6, hold,” said Walker. “Tango in the doorway.”
“Roger,” Wells whispered. “Holding position.”
Walker touched the tip of his finger to the rifle trigger.
“If I drop him,” he continued. “All of his buddies are going to come scattering out like ants.”
“Roger that,” replied the Captain. “Let’s wait and see what he does.”
Almost instantly, the hostile started to walk to the corner of the house.
“Shit,” Walker said, holding the butt of the rifle tightly into his right shoulder. “He’s moving.”
Just before he was able to reach Well’s position, Walker pressed the trigger. A single shot tore through the man’s torso, leaving a gaping hole and thrusting him backward against the wall before smashing into a rock.
“He’s down,” Walker said into the radio as he guided his scope to the door. “But, there are more headed your way!”
A second man appeared in the doorway, and Walker dropped him to the floor.
“Take cover!” Walker shouted as he watched his team reposition behind a few large boulders. “They’re coming fast!”
“Roger that, Alpha-3! We need to rescue these civilians!”
“Let’s kill these bastards first, huh? Then we’ll worry about getting them out of here!”
Wells and the rest of the SF team began sending fire into the hostiles fleeing the house as Walker and Branch looked on from hundreds of meters away.
“Fuck!” Walker yelled, watching one of the ISIS fighters appear, holding an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launcher pointed at the team’s location. “RPG!”
“Allahu Akbar!” They heard him screech in the distance.
Immediately, Walker held his rifle aimed at the hostile. As he squeezed the trigger, the RPG launched and shot through the air, exploding within a few meters of the team before his body collapsed to the dirt.
“Shit! You guys, ok?”
“We’re good, Alpha-3!” Captain Wells yelled in between bursts of gunfire. “Just cover us!”
Hearing the constant rifle fire from their position on the mountainside, Walker and Branch knew they couldn’t remain there for long. The team was compromised. As quick as the Captain could utter a single word, Walker continued targeting each militant. At the same time, the team kept sending rounds into the sand-colored house.
“You have to move, Alpha-6!” He said as bullets pinged off the rocks from inside the structure. “You’re going to get pinned down! I’ll cover you. Just move!”
Suddenly, he noticed an ISIS fighter holding his AK-47 through the window pointed in the team’s direction.
“Big mistake, asshole,” Walker said, squeezing the trigger and watching as the man’s covered head was ripped off by the weight of a .50 Caliber rifle bullet flying at breakneck speed.
All of a sudden, another truck emerged down the uneven, dirt road, speeding toward the Special Forces team as they scrambled for cover.
“We have a problem here,” said Walker. “Looks like a possible suicide bomber coming in hot!”
“You have a shot on him?” Wells asked over the radio. “I repeat, do you have a shot?”
“Working on it,” Walker replied as he followed the roof of the vehicle partly hidden by the mountainous terrain.
The truck came barreling around the curve, headed straight for the middle of the square, not far from the team’s location. Walker knew he’d only have one shot at him. It was a scenario they’d seen far too often, a lone suicide bomber targeting US troops. He positioned his rifle toward the vehicle’s grill and followed the truck as it got closer with every passing second.
Inhaling slowly, he calmed his nerves to steady his aim. Finger gently held against the trigger, he pressed. The bullet struck the grill and entered the center of the radiator. White smoke rose into the air, antifreeze spilling under the hood. The truck coasted down the hill and came to a gentle stop in the middle of the square.
Walker watched through his scope as the truck sat, smoking. Then, without warning, a huge blast rocked the entire area, sending Wells and a couple of his teammates flying backward behind the hardcover.
“Fuck!” They heard Wells bellow, coughing and wheezing from the black smoke that filled the air.
“Shit!” Walker said, hearing his team groan from the percussion of the blast that had tossed them to the ground. “That was fucking close! You still in one piece?”
“Yeah,” the Captain uttered, spitting a glob of dirt from his mouth. “Yeah, we’re good, I think. Holy Shit, that was fucking nuts.”
Walker watched as Wells and Henderson stumbled to their knees and peeked around the corner at the vehicle, the ball of flames climbing high into the air.
“Nice shot, man!” Continued Wells. “A few more seconds, we’d have been barbecue for sure.”
“Seriously,” Chief Henderson added. “I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“Dude, I’m buying you a whole fucking case of beer when we get home,” said the team’s Weapons Sergeant, Javier Lopez.
“We can all hug and kiss later,” Walker answered. “We aren’t out of this yet. They are still inside. And I am pretty sure they won’t come out quietly.”
He glanced over at Branch with a half-witted smirk as his spotter patted him on the shoulder.
“Nice shooting, man,” said Branch.
Walker smiled and peeped back once more through his rifle scope.
As the smoke from the burning vehicle began to blow to the East in the increasing wind, a figure appeared from inside the house. Wearing a white robe and a thick bushy beard with a white taqiyah covering his head, the man walked into the center of the square, holding a pistol to one of the hostages’ heads.
“Alpha-6,” he said into his mouthpiece. “It’s him. It’s Abbas.”
Walker moved his rifle in the team’s direction and saw his Captain glance out behind his covered position.
“What the fuck is he doing?” The Captain said over the radio.
“I’m not too sure yet,” replied Walker.
“Do you have a shot?” Asked Wells.
Walker stared at Abbas through the glass for a moment.
“Negative. No clear shot.”
Suddenly, Abbas began to speak loudly.
“I know you are out there, you American infidels!” He shouted in flawless English. “We will continue to punish you and kidnap and kill your people and soldiers if you do not leave our Muslim lands, never to return! You have been killing Muslims for too long. Your drones have killed our women and children. If you do not leave, you will face Allah’s wrath, as well as mine. Unlike you, I am not afraid of death. I welcome it!”
Walker and Branch could barely hear him from their location on the rocky hillside. But it didn’t matter. They understood his intentions loud and clear.
Abbas wrapped his arm around the woman, pulling her tight to his chest. Walker held the scope on him, trying to find a shot. But her body was just too close for comfort.
Abbas snatched the cover from the woman’s head, tossing it to the dirt.
“Is this what you’re here for?” He asked rudely. “I will kill her right here if you do not leave now!”
“Fuck,” Walker said. “Alpha-6, confirming priority target has the Scribe, over.”
“You sure it’s her?” Wells returned.
“Does it matter? We still have to save these people.”
“Roger that,” Wells said to Walker. “I have an idea.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get his attention. Follow my lead.”
Walker watched through the scope as Captain Wells rose to his feet, showing himself to Abbas and his henchmen.
“Ah, what the fuck are you doing?” He murmured.
“That’s some cowboy shit right there!” Branch added in his Houston, Texas draw.
The Captain held his M-4 high in the air, then tossed it to the ground a few feet away as the guards aimed their AK-47′s at him.
“Just give me a half a second to take the shot,” Walker said to himself. “That’s all I need.”
He continued observing as his team Captain stood there. Unable to hear the conversation between him and the ISIS Lieutenant, Walker stared at Abbas, hoping for a split-second of opportunity.
Then, out of nowhere, the captive woman elbowed him in the side. Abbas hastily loosened his hold on her as she hit the dirt. Walker, already trained on his target, released a .50 caliber bullet that took Abbas’s head clean off. His body fell straight to the ground.
Abbas’s bodyguards started shooting in the team’s direction, hitting Wells in the arm as he dove for cover.
“Fuck!” He shouted.
“You all right, boss?” Walker asked, watching the Captain clench his left arm.
“Yeah, I’m good,” he replied. “Just a flesh wound.”
The rest of the team fired into them, dropping one to the ground as the journalist crawled underneath one of the trucks. The other was in Walker’s crosshairs.
He sent a bullet tearing into the man’s neck, blood spouting from his carotid artery and throwing his body backward.
Sniper and spotter watched as Wells, winding a bandage around his bicep, proceeded toward the woman, hearing her scream in fear. At the same time, the Chief took the rest of the team to clear the house. Minutes later, they appeared with four hostages, minus one who’d already been killed.
Special Forces teams were known to be out of the box type thinkers. But this time, Walker felt a sense of luck. He wasn’t sure how this one would play out. Dead terrorists and saved hostages suited him just fine, no matter how it was done.
“Eagle-1,” Walker heard Wells say over the radio. “This is Alpha-6 requesting extraction, over.”
“That’s a good copy, Alpha-6,” said the pilot. “We’ll be at your location in five mikes (minutes). Over and out.”
With one more mission chalked up as a victory, Walker and Branch traveled down the slope to assist their team in loading the freed civilians as the Blackhawk helicopter appeared over the mountain skyline.