Authors: Matthew Palmer
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Copyright Â© 2014 by Matthew Palmer
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Palmer, Matthew, date.
The American Mission / Matthew Palmer.
1. DiplomatsâFiction. 2. AmericansâAfricaâFiction. 3. Diplomatic and consular service, AmericanâAfricaâFiction. 4. AfricaâFiction. 5. Political fiction. I. Title.
PS3616.A3435A44 2014 2013037710
ENDPAPER MAP BY JEFFREY L. WARD
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and other contact information at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Bekica, of courseÂ .Â .Â .
and, as always, for Nicky and Zoe
ts reputation to the contrary, writing is not a solitary activity. That may still be true of diaries, but a book such as this one benefits from the input and support of many parties.
I want first of all to thank my father for teaching me how to write a novel and my brother, Daniel, for going first. My mother also offered keen insights as a critical reader.
Thanks to the multitalented Meg Ruley at the Jane Rotrosen Agency, this book found just the right home. Thanks also to everyone else at the agency, especially Carlie Webber, Rebecca Scherer, andânaturallyâJane herself. Nita Taublib and Meaghan Wagner have been a fantastic editing team at Putnam and the book is stronger for their guidance. Many people read the manuscript as it evolved, and I am especially grateful for the contributions of Michael and Kiki Nachmanoff, Aaron Pressman, Lee Litzenberger, Kati Hesford, and Kurt Campbell. Any mistakes, of course, are my own.
My wife, Bekica, and our children, Nicky and Zoe, offered me love and consistent support and, most important, the time I needed to write. Thanks, guys. I couldn't have done it without you.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the men and women of the Foreign Service, who work long hours on often thankless tasks in difficult and dangerous places to advance the interests of the United States. You are terrific colleagues, and I have learned more from you than I can begin to recount.
eath came on horseback.
From the air-conditioned comfort of the brigadier's trailer, Alex Baines could just make out the black smudge clinging to the horizon like a storm cloud. Through binoculars, the picture was clearer. Ranks of horsemen clustered together, their iron lances glinting in the sun. Except for the AK-47 assault rifles slung over their shoulders, it was a scene straight out of the fourteenth century.
militiamen were massing for what Alex could only assume was an imminent assault on the Riad refugee camp. He focused his attention on the one man with the power to prevent a massacre.
“General, I beg you, please defend this camp. Your peacekeepers are the only thing standing between these people and mass slaughter.”
Arush Singh of the Indian Army's First Gorkha Rifles looked at Alex with heavy, owlish eyes and sipped his omnipresent cup of tea. As always, the creases on his khaki uniform were sharp and crisp.
“Quite out of the question, I'm afraid,” Singh said, his upper-crust
accent betraying his years of schooling at Cambridge and Sandhurst. “My mandate is limited to self-defense. I don't have the authority to shoot at the
Janjaweed unless they start shooting at my men, something I very much doubt they will do.”
“That is an extremely narrow reading of your authorities. There are half a dozen UN Security Council resolutions that identify Camp Riad by name as a designated safe area. We have the responsibility to protect the people who came here on that basis and with our explicit guarantee of security.”
“Riad is officially a safe area. Unfortunately, however, the one resolution that specifically established my command provides a much more limited mandate. We are authorized to use lethal force only in self-defense. You know the resolution, Mr. Baines, and the reason for it. It is not an oversight or an accident. The mandate was carefully negotiated among the members of the Security Council. It's high politics, and there's nothing a simple military man can do about it.”
The problem, Alex knew, was China. Beijing was allied to the Sudanese government in Khartoum and skeptical of the UN mission in Darfur. The Chinese were hungry for access to Sudan's vast oil reserves. Rather than veto the resolution that created UNFISâthe UN deployment in Sudanâand face international outrage, Beijing had quietly neutered the mission in tedious negotiations in New York over the scope of the mandate. That was the way things worked in the UN system, and it was why, despite deploying a six-hundred-man force of Bangladeshi and Uruguayan infantry, UNFIS was something of a paper tiger.
“We've checked this carefully with the lawyers in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations back at headquarters,” Singh continued. “They are quite clear on this point.”
“The lawyers aren't here,” Alex insisted. “We are. What happens next is on us, and we can't pass that responsibility back to New York.” There was a sharp edge to his voice. Dark tendrils of anger and fear
clawed at his heart. He knew that he was losing the argument, and the consequences of losing were too terrible to contemplate.
“Our first priority now has to be the safety of the international staff,” Singh said. “We are here to help deliver aid and assistance, not to fight a war with the Janjaweed. The situation has grown too dangerous. We need to prepare for evacuation.”
“We have a responsibility to the refugees who put their faith in us. The Zaghawa could have fled to the mountains when reports of a Janjaweed attack first surfaced two weeks ago. They stayed because I asked them to, because I promised that we could protect them.”
“You really shouldn't have done that,” Singh sighed, sipping his tea.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
hen Alex opened the door to the trailer, the blast of heat hit him with an almost physical force. The cloud on the horizon had grown larger. Pulling the binoculars from his pocket, he surveyed the scene. A large man on a white horse rode across the front of the Janjaweed ranks. It was too far for Alex to see the rider's face clearly, but he would have bet a sizable sum that it was Muhammed Al-Nour. Even by the standards of the Janjaweed, Al-Nour was a murdering thug with a well-deserved reputation for brutality.
Most of the camp's ten thousand residents were members of the Zaghawa tribe. Arab Janjaweed militia had been battling the African Zaghawa for the better part of two decades. It was an unequal struggle teetering on the edge of genocide.
Pocketing the binoculars, Alex knew what he had to do next. He had to tell the Zaghawa elders that they were going to die.
As much as he would have liked to deny his own responsibility for what was about to happen, he knew that he could not. Washington had been afraid that a mass exodus from the camp would undermine the credibility of international efforts in Darfur and lead to a growing drumbeat of support for military intervention in Sudan. Moreover, the
intelligence community was flatly contradicting the desert nomads' predictions of a Janjaweed attack. The government's multibillion-dollar reconnaissance satellites saw nothing that would substantiate their story. The CIA's best analysts dismissed the reports as groundless.
The State Department had instructed Alex to persuade the Zaghawa leadership to keep their people in Camp Riad. In Alex's six months in the camp, the elders had come to trust him. And when he advised them to stay, they listened to him.
Alex made his way through the squalid encampment toward the makeshift shelter where the tribal council met.
The elders were waiting.
Daoud Tirijani, de facto head of all of the Zaghawa tribesmen in the camp, stepped forward to greet him. He was a tall, thin man who looked to be in his late sixties. His sun-wrinkled skin served as testament to a harsh life in the desert. His robes were caked with the thick yellow dust that blew ceaselessly through the camp and settled in a gritty film over everything and everyone. A cloth
was wrapped around his head and neck, leaving only Daoud's face exposed to the elements. Fatima, the tribesman's principal wife, stood behind him holding one of his fifteen grandchildren. A girl. Alex bowed his head briefly in wordless apology but then looked the Zaghawa elder straight in the eye.
“I'm sorry, Daoud.”
The tribesman nodded. His expression did not change.
“The Janjaweed are going to come,” Alex continued. “General Singh will not fight. There may still be time for you to lead your people to the hills.”
Daoud shook his head. “It is too late for that.”
In a gesture of extraordinary generosity, Daoud reached out and clasped his forearm. Alex reciprocated, locking eyes with the Chief. For the Zaghawa, this was a mark of respect. Daoud was acknowledging that Alex had done all that he could. Somehow, this made him feel even worse.
“You are a great man, Daoud, a true leader. It has been a privilege to be your friend.”
The ground began to rumble under their feet. The Janjaweed
Daoud turned and barked orders in Zaghawa too quickly for Alex to follow. The small knot of elders dispersed, returning to the subclans they were charged with leading through this crisis.
Fatima walked up to Alex and handed her granddaughter to him. For a moment, he resisted the responsibility, overwhelmed by what it was Fatima was asking of him and ashamed of his reluctance to accept it. Then he took the girl. He did not know what else he could do.
“Her name is Anah,” she said.
Daoud's granddaughter was stick thin. She could not have been more than six years old. She clung fiercely to Alex and did not cry. Anah was a brave girl.
Wordlessly, Fatima turned away and walked to stand beside her husband.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
Janjaweed charge is a fearsome thing to see. The militiamen preferred the intimacy of the spear and sword to the impersonal killing power of automatic rifles. Nearly a hundred riders on stout horses rode through the center of the camp like an armored fist. Their leveled lances cut down scores of camp residents as they tried to flee. Alex saw one of the elders, a man he knew well, decapitated by a strike from a machete. There was nowhere to hide. The only hope for the camp residents was to stay alive long enough for the Janjaweed to sate their bloodlust.
A few peacekeepers in powder blue helmets stood and watched the slaughter. They carried their rifles slung harmlessly over their shoulders. The Janjaweed
gave them a wide berth.
A few of the Zaghawa men tried to fight back, but they lacked training, experience, and weapons. Some tried to hide. Most tried to flee.
Alex saw two Janjaweed
ride in parallel through the center of the camp with a chain suspended between their saddles, catching refugees around the knees and ankles, and sending them crashing to the ground. From behind a stack of crates stenciled with Australian flags, Daoud stepped out in front of one of the riders, holding a length of iron pipe. Dodging the tip of the Janjaweed's lance, he swung the heavy pipe in an arc that caught the rider on the shoulder and dumped him from the saddle. The militiaman fell hard and Daoud raised the pipe like a spear. Before he could deliver the blow, an Arab
riding a white horse and wearing a black Bedouin-style headdress rode up behind him and stabbed Daoud in the neck with a curved sword. Alex recognized him from his picture in the CIA bio. It was Al-Nour.
The horse reared. The animal was so white that it seemed almost translucent in the desert sun. The muscles and veins under its skin were clearly visible. Alex recalled the passage from Revelation:
I looked and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named death, and hell was following close behind.
With a speed and grace that belied his size, Al-Nour jumped from his horse and wrapped a length of cord around Daoud's ankles. Remounting, the Janjaweed leader dragged Daoud's body down the main road of the camp. As he rode past, Al-Nour looked at Alex and Anah with a sneer playing on his lips. He pointed his bloody blade at Alex's head but did not lift it to strike.
Alex held on tightly to Anah. He did not dare put her down. Even as he kept her safe, however, he drew strength from her. Anah had been entrusted to him. Here in the shadow of death, the survival of this one small creature was his sole responsibility.
Slowly and carefully, Alex made his way through the maze of crude shelters, moving in the direction of the trailers that housed the international staff. He whispered reassurances to Anah in English. It did not matter if she understood the words.
The killing became less efficient as the riders broke up into smaller
groups and spread out through the vast camp. A few stopped murdering long enough to rape.
Alex was light-headed and dizzy. His vision narrowed to the point where he felt he was looking at the world through a long tube. Anah grew heavy in his arms as she clung to him with her face pressed tightly against his shoulder.
He had nearly reached the trailers when the cavalry arrived. A small armada of helicopters appeared in the sky over Camp Riad, and for a moment Alex dared to hope that the Janjaweed
would be pushed back. The deadly Cobra gunships stayed silent, however, and circled above in lazy figure eights as four massive U.S. Marine Corps Sea Knights set down near the trailers. The blast from the Sea Knights' twin rotors sent sand and shelter material flying in every direction. Even before the helicopters had settled on their landing gear, efficient Marine rifle squads had dismounted and secured the perimeter. They did nothing to challenge the Janjaweed
Alex assessed that the one Marine carrying a BlackBerry rather than a rifle was the mission commander. When he got closer, Alex could see the oak-leaf insignia of a lieutenant colonel and a name tag over his breast pocket that read H
“Colonel Harrow, I'm Alex Baines with the State Department. This is a UN safe area, and the Janjaweed militia are in violation of multiple Security Council resolutions. Between your Marines and the UN peacekeeping contingent, there's more than enough strength to push the Janjaweed back and save what's left of this camp.”
“I reckon you might be right about that, sir,” the colonel replied in a soft Georgian drawl. “But it's not in my orders. This is a NEO, a noncombatant evacuation. My orders are to get you and the UN civilian staff out of here.”
“The international staff will all fit on one Sea Knight,” Alex insisted. “You can evacuate at least a hundred Zaghawa on the other helicopters. We should start with the sick, the injured, and the children.”
“No can do, sir. Not in my orders. Besides, we can't have refugees swarming the helos looking for a way out. It's too dangerous. I need to ask you to get on board now, please.”
Alex felt the blood pounding in his temples. He fought to control his anger and failed. Without thought, he lashed out with a fist, catching the Marine colonel on the jaw and knocking him to the ground. Two young Marines stepped in quickly to defend their commander. One grunt grabbed Alex's free arm and twisted it behind his back. The other reached for Anah but stopped short when he saw the savage look in Alex's eyes.
Harrow rose from the ground and held up his hand. “It's okay. Let him go. In truth, I don't really blame him. But get this man on one of the birds. If he resists, you can restrain himÂ .Â .Â . gently.” A trickle of blood ran down Harrow's chin from his newly split lip.
“Get your shoulder into it next time,” he said, before turning to greet General Singh.
Alex's guards escorted him to the door of one of the helicopters. A Marine sergeant supervising the boarding stopped him. He looked at Anah and then at Alex. “I'm sorry, sir. No locals on the helos. Colonel's orders. Internationals only, sir.”
“She's my daughter,” Alex replied, shouting over the noise. Even as he said it, he realized it was true.