Authors: Peter Nealen
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer living persons and places are based on actual locations. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all the materials in this book.
Task Force Desperate
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Peter Nealen
Cover Photo © 2012 Peter Nealen. All rights reserved - used with permission.
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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ust like so many other times, the suck started with Bob Fagin waking my ass up.
I wasn’t happy to be getting rousted out. Not that my narrow, cramped, and fairly hard shipboard bunk was particularly comfortable. Far from it. After eight hours sitting on the fantail of the
, however, baking in the sun with a rifle and a spotting scope on pirate watch, I just wanted to sleep.
“It can’t be time for my next watch yet,” I grumbled.
“It’s not,” Bob said, and even though my eyes were still closed, I could hear the malicious grin in his voice. “Something’s come up. Alek wants everybody up in the conference room.” The conference room was another one of the accommodation compartments Captain Van Husten let us use, one deck up from our sleeping quarters.
I swung my feet out of the rack and onto the cool metal deck with a groan, digging at my eyes with the heels of my palms. “Fuck.” I reached for my boots, looking at my watch in the process. “Two fucking hours. This had better be good.” I glared up at him. “If this is for an announcement that you’ve just been declared a teen idol, I’m kicking your ass.” That wiped the smirk off his face.
Bob could only be described as pretty. Pointed chin, high cheekbones, curly blond hair. He looked like he belonged in a designer clothing ad. That, along with the fact that he was the newbie in Praetorian Security’s founding team, meant he caught all kinds of shit, constantly. He had shaved his head after the first few cracks, but that didn’t stop them, especially when it was discovered that he couldn’t grow even a goatee to save his life.
I finished speed-lacing my boots, slung my pistol belt around my hips, and grabbed my rifle. It wasn‘t immediately recognizable as an M1A, thanks to the Troy chassis I‘d put it into. Pop-up iron sights were now backup for a tac scope. One of the things we had determined when the company started was that as long as it used one of the standard calibers, you could use any weapon you were comfortable with. We had established 7.62 NATO for rifles, 12 gauge for shotguns, .45 ACP for pistols, and .338 Lapua Magnum for sniper rifles. It seemed to work pretty well.
I followed Bob through the narrow space between bunks that were stacked clear to the low overhead, and through the hatch, which I had to simultaneously duck and high-step to get through. I’d hated those things on ship when I was in the Marine Corps, and I hated them just as much now.
We trotted up the equally narrow, and steep, ladderwell to the next deck, did the little duck/high-step thing again, and turned sharp left. Just like on Navy ships, the passageways were narrow, with pipes and valves presenting hazards to your head as you went by, not to mention people popping out of hatches randomly. Damn, I hate being on ship. Pay’s good, though.
Our hatch was about ten yards down, and we ducked through it. The compartment wasn’t big, and the table in the middle took up most of the deck space. The bulkheads were plastered with maps and charts, mostly of the Somali coastline, with red pins for pirate attacks and known or suspected pirate bases. In between the maps were photos of known or suspected pirate vessels, including two former bulk carriers that had been converted into “motherships,” from which the smaller attack boats were sent out. Alek, Jim, Larry, and Rodrigo were already gathered around the laptop on the table. The usual collection of Mk 17s, Alek’s OBR, two SA58s, and another M1A, this one with a Sage stock, were in evidence. We never went anywhere unarmed. I edged around to stand next to Larry, and craned my neck to see that the satellite video was up, and the Colonel was on the line.
His name was retired Colonel Thomas Heinrich. He looked grim, which, considering the man always looked like a cold-eyed, cadaverous motherfucker, doesn’t say much, but today he looked grimmer than usual. Seeing the tight-lipped expressions on Alek’s and Jim’s faces, I started to get a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. This didn’t bode well.
“All right, Tom,” Alek said as Bob and I got to where we could see. “Go ahead.”
The Colonel acknowledged both of us. “Fagin. Stone. I wish I could say that I was glad you could join us, but there isn’t much to be glad about.” He paused, his mouth set in a thin line. “Just watch. I’ll fill in details as this goes.” He disappeared, to be replaced with what looked like GBOS footage of a large, agitated crowd at what appeared to be a security checkpoint.
“This is the entrance control point to Camp Lemonier,” the Colonel explained. Camp Lemonier, at Djibouti City Airport, was the center of any and all US operations on the Horn of Africa. “There have been crowds there for most of the last week, mainly Somali refugees trying to get food, water, medicine, what-have-you.” The crowd looked less like a breadline and more like a riot to me, but I kept my mouth shut. “Some sources have been warning that various terrorist groups have been agitating these crowds, even using them for cover. A few have even mentioned this Al Masri who popped up in Somalia a few months ago.”
The sea of people around the checkpoint was obviously poor; most were visibly emaciated, even in the grainy footage we had. I leaned forward, something catching my eye.
“Who’s that fucker?” I asked, pointing to someone on the edge of the crowd near the camera, who was moving through the press, toward the gate. He didn’t look like he was shouting, but did have his hands in front of him, and his back angled toward the camera. I couldn’t be one hundred percent certain, of course, but I’ve seen somebody trying to hide a weapon with their body before, and that’s what this looked like.
“Good eye, Stone,” the Colonel’s disembodied voice said. “Keep watching; it looks like those sources were right.”
A few moments later there was an explosion in the middle of the crowd, about fifty meters back from the gate. The camera shook, and probably thirty people just disappeared in the blossom of smoke and dust. Larry swore. “Motherfuckers couldn’t even get to the gate.”
“Not their intention,” the Colonel pointed out. “Watch.”
As the smoke cleared, the mangled bodies became visible, not to mention the panic of the rest of the crowd. It was apparent that most of them hadn’t been warned of the suicide bomber. There were wounded on the edges of the blast, some trying to crawl away, others being trampled by people trying to escape, no matter where to.
There wasn’t much of any move to help anyone hit by the blast; there was just general panic, but the crowd didn’t look like it was going anywhere, either. I was soon picking out small groups of armed men herding, for lack of a better term, the people into the kill zone. What the fuck?
It started coming together when the gates to Camp Lemonier began to open, and three white-painted HMMWVs rolled out. They weren’t UN trucks, the UN didn’t even have a presence at Lemonier, but it had become a popular paint scheme for “non-tactical tactical vehicles.” Aid trucks, in other words. As you might expect, they were unarmed, which was largely why I wasn’t surprised by what happened next.
Even after all these years, the RPG-7 is still plenty popular with the irregular-warfare set. It does a number on a Hummer, too. Two of them hit the rearmost truck as it was still inside the gate. The rear simply disappeared in two overlapping clouds of black and orange, and it looked like the truck almost flipped over from the force of the twin blasts. When it settled, burning, to the ground, the gate was blocked, and still open.
The camera angle didn’t let us see much of what the guard force was doing, but whatever it was, it couldn’t have been too effective. More RPG gunners appeared, firing through the open gate, even as the two surviving trucks were swarmed, their doors wrenched open, and the occupants pulled out to disappear under a human tide. The camera was picking up small arms flashes now, and people, mostly armed, were shoving through the gate, past the burning Humvee.
“We don’t have any footage of what happened inside the camp,” the Colonel said, as his face replaced the scene of fire and destruction on the screen. “What we do know is that most of it fell relatively quickly. The majority of the US personnel in Djibouti were support types, many of whom never went armed, even if they had a weapon issued in-country. I’m told that the ‘special’ compound took a while, but it appears to have gone silent. We have found this on YouTube, however…” The screen changed again, this time showing a crowd beating at what could only be a mutilated corpse. “The poster is saying that it is one of the ‘American imperialists’ who was killed at Lemonier.”
The Colonel returned to the screen. “Short version, gentlemen, is that the only major US base in East Africa just got overrun, in the course of about three hours. We don’t know yet if there are still live hostages, but at the moment we are assuming there are, possibly as many as two hundred.”
Jim spoke up. “We just sailed past a MEU two days ago. They doing anything?”
The Colonel grimaced. “Hardly. They’re still holding station, awaiting further developments. Word I’m getting from my sources is, National Command Authority doesn’t want to commit troops unless there is solid proof of survivors on the ground. I have been assured that State is talking to the Djibouti authorities.” The acid in his tone spoke to what he thought of that. He had retired as a colonel precisely because of his inability to get along with politicians, diplomats, and bureaucrats. “The truth is a little worse than what they’re telling us. That MEU is in position, but hasn’t moved in three weeks due to lack of fuel. JSOC is sitting on its hands because the money, even for them, is pretty much insufficient to mount an operation. The dollar’s collapse last year pretty much grounded most of the US Armed Forces.”
Alek broke in. Alek is six-foot-four, and, being Samoan, close to two hundred seventy-five pounds. When he breaks in, everybody shuts up. “I take it you’re telling us this because you got us a contract in Djibouti, Tom?”
An icy smile crossed the Colonel’s face. “You could say that. I’ve got a contact with Special Activities.” That raised a couple of eyebrows. Don’t get me wrong, the Colonel could be a ruthless, cold-blooded, outside-the-box motherfucker when he wanted to, but he came from the regular Army, not the Recon or SOF community, like most of Praetorian Security’s operators. It was slightly surprising that he knew people in SA. “He hasn’t got the assets in-country to conduct the mission, so he’s calling on us. Rest assured; the pay is commensurate.”
Alek held up a plate-sized hand. “Calling on us for what?”
“To find the hostages.”
There was a long silence after that. We had one ten-man team on the
. That was almost equivalent to a Special Forces A-team, yes. Sufficient to liberate something in the neighborhood of two hundred hostages? Unlikely. “You want to run that by me again, Tom?” Jim rumbled.