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Fiction Stories.

By Tom Demerly.

MrX hit team

This top secret photo, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, depicts a U.S. rescue team just after liberating Mr. X and a helicopter load of kittens from Damascus, Syria. Mr. X safeguarded the abandoned kittens until U.S. forces could mount a lightening raid using Russian helicopters operated by the CIA to rescue them. His whereabouts following the operation were unknown, until he showed up in our back yard a month ago.

Across four continents with too many aliases to count, rescuing hostage cats and fending off the advances of top-secret “honey pot” queen cats, smuggling catnip to refugee cats and establishing remote, clandestine scratching posts deep in denied territory- these are just a few of the fur-raising exploits in the secret life of the cat who came in from the cold.

They told us his name was “Chester”, but when the vet read his microchip he told us, “I think there is something you should see here…”

That something is a tale of danger and adventure more incredible than any fiction.

Based on the shadowy details we could piece together Mr. X’s adventure started in the Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa. How he got there is a mystery but documents revealed that Mr. X had been issued a U.S. military I.D. posing as a feline member of an elite Air Force unit in charge of chasing birds.

Mr X map

A. Mr. X arrives in the Canary Islands from a secret U.S. base in Lajes, Portugal. B. He crosses into Morocco, through Casablanca and Meknes, then across the Straits of Gibraltar on a fishing boat while eating tuna and then into Portugal. C. In Paris Mr. X encounters “honey pot” cat Choupette Lagerfeld. D. Crossing eastern Europe to the Greek Isles Mr. X enjoys the spoils of smuggling and espionage on a tuna fish magnate’s yacht. E. He crosses to Malta on a mouse-hunting expedition and then infiltrates Libya to rescue kittens trapped in Libya. F. In Benghazi he rescues a litter of Russian kittens and (G) smuggles them across the desert to Egypt. H. A secret, joint U.S./Russian rescue team airlift Mr. X and his rescued kittens to Turkey. J. Mr. X receives a massive welcome in Russia where he is awarded the “Cat of the Russian Federation” award.

Likely attracted to the Canary Islands because of his fascination with birds, Mr. X, (his alias at the time was “Chester”) was recruited into an experimental U.S. Air Force program that trained cats to conduct audible surveillance with their sensitive hearing. From Lajes, Portugal Mr. X moved by small surface vessel to establish ears-on a bird rookery on Tenerife.

Mr X ID card

False Air Force identity card issued to Mr. X under the alias “Airman David S. Silva” for his clandestine activities off the African coast.

It is off the coast of West Africa that Mr. X’s activities become increasingly difficult to follow. He has now fully adopted a new identity under the name “Airman David Silva”. Airman-cat Silva apparently learns of a massive catnip plantation high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco near the Algerian/Moroccan border. The catnip is grown in the damp, rain catching mountains before the vast sprawl of the Sahara major in Africa’s north-central expanse. Being a clever businessman Mr. X brokers a deal to move substantial quantities of catnip from the Atlas Mountains overland and north to cross the Straits of Gibraltar. He hopes to resell his secretly obtained catnip on the open market in Paris, France where fashionable cats pay a premium for Moroccan catnip.

In Portugal Mr. X is approached by shadowy members of a secret cat society called “Le Chat Noir” (“The Black Cat”)  who attempt to extort a tax for the safe passage of his vast catnip shipments in exchange for distracting customs officials from seizing the material.

While partying at a late night laser-pointer rave in Lisbon David Silva meets the captivating celebrity cat Choupette Lagerfeld, cat to the famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. In a passion-driven all night purring and licking orgy Choupette and David Silva form an unbreakable bond, waking up at sunrise on the breathtaking Praia da Marinha beach.

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Choupette Lagerfeld, the queen-cat who seduced (alias) David Silva during an all-night catnip and laser-show rave in Portugal.

Once in Paris David Silva begins to make contacts through Choupette Lagerfeld for the distribution of his catnip shipments now moving freely from Morocco. Problems surface almost immediately as David Silva suspects that Choupette is working for the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure or the “DGSI”, the French equivalent of our FBI. The French agency hopes to stop the flow of Moroccan catnip into Paris in the hopes of driving up catnip prices and collecting a French excise tax on the feline confection.

David Silva feels betrayed by Choupette, urinates on the carpeting in one of Karl Lagerfeld’s estates and shreds designer toilet paper in one of its bathrooms before leaving in a rage. Claws still out from his perceived betrayal he crosses Eastern Europe until he reaches the Greek Isles, where partying aristocats take a liking to Silva and invite him for a month of partying on their yacht docked at the island of Lesbos.

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Still heartbroken from the Paris Affair, Mr. X attempts to recover on a billionaire cat’s yacht in the Greek isles.

Having profited modestly from his catnip venture in Paris before betrayal by Lagerfeld, Mr. X used his resources to travel to the Greek Isles where he hoped for a much needed holiday. There he met a cartel of cats who controlled tuna fishing in the area. These cats had amassed a considerable fortune from their fishing industry that supplied a lucrative canned cat food market across Europe. Mr. X immediately befriended them and boarded their yacht, the M.V. Silent Purr, on the Greek Island of Lesbos.

Mr. X. remained the guest of the Greek tuna cartel cats until one of the cats told him of a rumor of abandoned Russian Blue kittens inside Libya. X immediately made plans to infiltrate Libya, then torn by revolution, to rescue the kittens and repatriate them to Russia. In exchange Greek Cats agreed to pay, through their syndicate, a massive stipend to Mr. X.

Details of Mr. X’s operation to rescue the Russian Blue kittens in Tripoli, Libya remain classified, but the operation was a resounding success. This is especially impressive since his escape route passed through conflict-torn Syria where X actually rescued more cats, repatriating them to Russia. Back in Moscow, a massive reception was held in honor of Mr. X.

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Mr X. at his reception in Moscow.

After Mr. X returned to Moscow with the rescued kittens his path became a mystery. There is no doubt he accumulated substantial financial resources as a result of his activities, and these resources likely enabled him to travel back to the United States.

Another theory, and some recent information that surfaced also as a result of a FOI Act inquiry, was this CIA identity card with a recent photo of Mr. X, who may have returned to his orginal alias, “Chester”.

cia alias

 

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0238 Hours Local Zone Time, 17 January 1991. Baghdad, Iraq. 

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It is dark and Mike Smith’s clothing is wet.

Mike Smith is an athlete, an elite athlete in fact. He is a triathlete, has done Ironman several times, a couple adventure races and even run the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco- a 152 mile running race through the Sahara done in stages.

Mike has some college, is gifted in foreign languages, reads a lot and has an amazing memory for details. He enjoys travel. He is a quiet guy but a very good athlete. Mike’s friends say he has a natural toughness. He can’t spend as much time training for triathlons as he’d like to because his job keeps him busy. Especially now. This is Mike’s busy season. But he still seems very fit. Even without much training Mike has managed some impressive performances in endurance events.

It’s a big night for Mike. He’s at work tonight. As I mentioned his clothing is wet, partially from dew, partially from perspiration. He and his four co-workers, Dan, Larry, Pete and Maurice are working on a rooftop at the corner of Jamia St. and Khulafa St. across from Omar Bin Yasir.

Mike is looking through the viewfinder of a British made Pilkington LF25 laser designator. The crosshairs are centered on a ventilation shaft. The shaft is on the roof of The Republican Guard Palace in downtown Baghdad across the Tigris River.

Saddam Hussein is inside, seven floors below, three floors below ground level, attending a crisis meeting.

Mike’s co-worker Pete (also an Ironman finisher, Lake Placid, 2000) keys some information into a small laptop computer and hits “burst transmit”. The DMDG (Digital Message Device Group) uplinks data to another of Mike’s co-workers (this time a man he’s never met, but they both work for their Uncle, “Sam”) and a fellow athlete, at 21’500 feet above Iraq 15 miles from downtown Baghdad. This man’s office is the cockpit of an F-117 stealth fighter. When Mike and Pete’s signal is received the man in the airplane leaves his orbit outside Baghdad, turns left, and heads downtown.

Mike has 40 seconds to complete his work for tonight, then he can go for a run.

Mike squeezes the trigger of his LF25 and a dot appears on the ventilator shaft five city blocks and across the river away from him and his co-workers. Mike speaks softly into his microphone; “Target illuminated. Danger close. Danger Close. Danger close. Over.”

Seconds later two GBU-24B two thousand pound laser guided, hardened case, delayed fuse “bunker buster” bombs fall free from the F-117. The bombs enter “the funnel” and begin finding their way to the tiny dot projected by Mike’s LF25. They glide approximately three miles across the ground and fall four miles on the way to the spot marked by Mike and his friends.

When they reach the ventilator shaft marked by Mike and his friends the two bunker busters enter the roof in a puff of dust and debris. They plow through the first four floors of the building like a two-ton steel telephone pole traveling over 400 m.p.h., tossing desks, ceiling tiles, computers and chairs out the shattering windows. Then they hit the six-foot thick reinforced concrete roof of the bunker. They burrow four more feet and detonate.

The shock wave is transparent but reverberates through the ground to the river where a Doppler wave appears on the surface of the Tigris. When the seismic shock reaches the building Mike is on he levitates an inch off the roof from the concussion.

Then the sound hits. The two explosions are like a simultaneous crack of thunder as the building’s walls seem to swell momentarily, then burst apart on an expanding fireball that slowly, eerily, boils above Baghdad casting rotating shadows as the fire climbs into the night. Debris begins to rain; structural steel, chunks of concrete, shards of glass, flaming fabrics and papers.

On the tail of the two laser guided bombs a procession of BGM-109G/TLAM Block IV Enhanced Tomahawks begin their terminal plunge. The laser-guided bombs performed the incision, the GPS and computer guided TLAM Tomahawks complete the operation. In rapid-fire succession the missiles find their mark and riddle the Palace with massive explosions, finishing the job. The earth heaves in a final death convulsion.

Mike’s job is done for tonight. Now all he has to do is get home.

Mike and his friends drive an old Mercedes through the streets of Baghdad as the sirens start. They take Jamia to Al Kut, cross Al Kut and go right (South) on the Expressway out of town. An unsuspecting remote CNN camera mounted on the balcony of the Al Rashid Hotel picks up their vehicle headed out of town. Viewers at home wonder what a car is doing on the street during the beginning of a war. They don’t know it is packed with five members of the U.S. Army’s SFOD-D, Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta. Or simply, Delta.

Six miles out of town they park their Mercedes on the shoulder, pull their gear out of the trunk and begin to run into the desert night. The moon is nearly full. Instinctively they fan out, on line, in a “lazy ‘W’ “. They run five miles at a brisk pace, good training for this evening, especially with 27 lb. packs on their back. Behind them there is fire on the horizon. Mike and his fellow athletes have a meeting to catch, and they can’t be late.

Twenty-seven miles out a huge gray 92-foot long insect hurtles 40 feet above the desert at 140 m.p.h. The MH-53J Pave Low III is piloted by another athlete, also a triathlete, named Jim, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is flying to meet Mike.

After running five miles into the desert Mike uses his GPS to confirm his position. He is in the right place at the right time. He removes an infra-red strobe light from his pack and pushes the red button on the bottom of it. It blinks invisibly in the dark. He and his friends form a wide 360-degree circle while waiting for their ride home.

Two miles out Jim in the Pave Low sees Mike’s strobe through his night vision goggles. He gently moves the control stick and pulls back on the collective to line up on Mike’s infra-red strobe. Mike’s ride home is here.

The big Pave Low helicopter flares for landing over the desert and quickly touches down in a swirling tempest of dust. Mike and his friends run up the ramp after their identity is confirmed. Mike counts them up the ramp of the helicopter over the scream of the engines. When he shows the crew chief five fingers the helicopter lifts off and the ramp comes up. The dark gray Pave Low spins in its own length and picks up speed going back the way it came, changing course slightly to avoid detection.

The men and women in our armed forces, especially Special Operations, are often well-trained, gifted athletes. All of them, including Mike, would rather be sleeping the night away in anticipation of a long training ride rather than laying on a damp roof in an unfriendly neighborhood guiding bombs to their mark or doing other things we’ll never hear about.

Regardless of your opinions about the war, the sacrifices these people are making and the risks they are taking are extraordinary. They believe they are making them on our behalf. Their skills, daring and accomplishments almost always go unspoken. They are truly Elite Athletes.

Epilogue:

I wrote this fictional, based on fact, article a few days after the start of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In the days that followed its publication it went “viral” with over 1 million hits per day. Almost every major news agency contacted me about the article and my sources; CNN, MSNBC, Knight-Ridder and others.

I got an e-mail and a phone call from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division for Intelligence at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were interested in hearing my sources. I told them to check my service records. They did, and advised me to be more careful about what I wrote about.

Following the publication of “An Elite Athlete” in 1991 several literary agents contacted me to submit book proposals. At the time, I was advised not to do this for a long list of good reasons. So I never did.

Recently a friend asked me to repost “An Elite Athlete” in its original form to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War. People still tell me, “You should write a book.”

I still haven’t. Not yet.

By Tom Demerly.

NOTE: This story is fiction based on news accounts. It does not contain factual depictions of any events from official sources.

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10:17 Local (15:17 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

Bob Davis felt a chill race up his spine and down his arms. He saw his hands tremble on the desk in front of him. His ironic sense of humor kicked in when he thought, “Well, Bob, that’s why they call it terror-ism.” He looked at the two men sitting across from him, their mouths moving, but he didn’t hear the words for a second. He forced himself to tune back in to their meeting despite a feeling that this couldn’t be real. It was like walking onto the pages of a Clancy novel.

“…Possibly V-IED’s in the parking lots, ah, that means vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, a car or truck bomb, like Timothy McVeigh used on the Federal Building, if you recall… There could be some form of crude, locally produced chemical weapon; chlorine gas, something like that. Those have big shock value with the media. There definitely will be explosives and assault weapons used. They can source that equipment locally and may already have from gun shows around the Midwest. We have agents from the Bureau and the ATF at those shows. Even the NRA people have been helping us, but we can’t catch everything.”

Davis manages operations for the Mall of the Americas in Bloomington, Minnesota. Over the past eight years he has seen women give birth there, the most elaborate shoplifting schemes every devised (and busted), a ring of prostitutes operating in the mall and a coyote that somehow made its way inside the giant shopping center on a busy Saturday night. This was the first time he sat across his desk from two FBI agents getting briefed on plans for a possible Al Qaeda style suicide attack on his mall during Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the busiest mall in the United States.

Davis was being briefed by the FBI about possible terrorist attacks at the Mall of the Americas two days after a pair of U.S. special operations raids, one in Libya, and one in Somalia. Sixteen days earlier Al Shabaab militants attacked the Westlake Mall, a U.S. style shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya. The FBI men told Davis it was a miracle only 67 people were killed in the Africa mall attack. Based on the damage to the mall, they felt the toll would have been higher. “Westlake was a test run for Al Shabaab. It was training for them, a field exercise. They won’t make the same mistakes twice.”

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The two FBI agents pulled up a file on their tablet computer. “Our estimates of casualties here at Mall of the America in a Black Friday attack are between 400 and 800 killed.” Davis felt the grip of what an attack would mean. The country, the economy, Minnesota, his community, his tenants, his family, his job. He remembered the economic impact from the 9/11 attacks. He was 40 years old then, working for the Taubman Centers back in Michigan. They managed a large number of shopping malls around the U.S. The 9/11 terror attacks had gutted the company’s occupancy in the next five years when the economy tanked. And that hadn’t been a direct attack on a U.S. shopping center. What the FBI agents were describing to Davis now could sink the shopping mall industry in the United States.

“The real damage, though,” Continued the larger agent with the iPad, “will be the broader economic impact on U.S. business. Retail for the holiday season would be destroyed. Even the e-commerce guys, like Amazon.com, would take a hit since people would not only be afraid to shop at a mall, they would be afraid to shop, period, because of concern over another economic crash. This is the new 9/11. It really would be Black Friday”

Bill Davis had one question for the two FBI men, “So, what do we do to make sure this doesn’t happen?”

“Well,” The smaller of the two FBI men said, “We think we may have reduced the capabilities of the attackers to execute their previous plans, but we still need your cooperation here at Mall of the Americas, Mr. Davis.”

“I’m all ears guys.”

02:45 Local (23:45, 2 October UTC), Thursday, 3 October 2013, Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, Headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

Nine men were arrested in Africa following the Kenyan mall attack. It took a few days for… the authorities… to extract information from those nine men. Taken one at a time none of them provided anything that seemed of much use. But each minor detail they provided, from how they paid for their meals to how they learned to use their weapons, began to congeal into a pattern. When that pattern was fit against the sides of other patterns, now electronically in a basement in Langley, Virginia, there was a horrific conclusion: The U.S. was next.

Once that conclusion was reached the Director of National Intelligence was briefed. He briefed the President, a man deeply embroiled with a domestic political battle when Congress refused to approve economic changes forcing a shutdown of some government offices. The President and his staff were busy with, among other things, trying to manage the first ever White House online flaming campaign via e-mail and social media. Their target was Congress and their intent was to depict them as uncompromising and unreasonable. To his credit as Commander in Chief, when the briefing materials on the Nairobi attacks reached his desk, the President did not delay. He set the wheels in motion via Admiral William H. McRaven at MacDill AFB. McRaven is the ninth man to command the United States Special Operations Command at MacDill, a unified command that coordinates the training, equipment, doctrine and employment of all U.S. special operations units.

McRaven’s units include some of the most sophisticated military intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities in the world. These operate organically to the special operations community, from the field around the world back to MacDill, largely for the purposes of mission planning. The strategic intelligence may flow upward from McRaven’s units, or downward from Langley, but flow it did, in both directions. When the intelligence McRaven’s units had collected was collated with the information garnered from the West Lake Mall attack in Kenya the picture was crystal clear.

A big part of that picture pointed back to a beach house in the Somali coastal city of Barawa.

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Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, had been training local indigenous forces in the region. They also collected intelligence from them during training. Both special operations and CIA operatives joined the activities related to Somalia at Camp Lemonnier to help with data collection and facilitate better, more context-based interpretation of intel. SPMAGTF Recon Marines had even conducted beach reconnaissance of some areas of the Barawa, Somalia coastline. That hydrographic survey data, combined with signals intelligence, some limited HUMINT (human intelligence from operatives on the ground in the target area), satellite and drone images merged with data from the West Lake Mall detainee interviews.

Back at Camp Lemonnier, at MacDill AFB in Florida, on a ship off the coast of East Africa and in Langley, Virginia, planners held a web conference to review the final plans for a direct action mission to interdict the capability of Al Shabaab to carry out their planned U.S. mall attack.

It was Thursday night. The raid on Barawa was a “go”.

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03:50 Local (12:50 UTC), Saturday, 5 October 2013, 473 meters off the coast of Baraawe, Somalia.

High tide hit the rocky beach off Baraawe, Somalia at 04:38 hours under a dim, waxing crescent moon. Just before high tide the incoming tidal current urged the twelve combat swimmers of the Naval Special Warfare Combat Interdiction Group (formerly “SEAL Team 6 or “DEVGRU”) toward the rocky outcrops that lay just off the Somali coast. Swimming along the surface was easy; the black African waters were warm. High clouds filtered what little moonlight there was.

The assault team had left their F470 CRRC boats almost 2 miles off shore to prevent visual detection of the assault boats from land. The boats used sound suppressed motors that were extremely quiet. After dropping off the combat swimmers the rigid inflatable boats immediately turned back out to sea for recovery on a U.S. Navy ship that was even now steaming back toward the coast after the insertion.

Navy SEAL photo downloads

The first element of the combat swimmer/assault team would hit the beach, remove their swim fins and floatation vests then cross inland on foot less than a kilometer south of their target, a large beachfront villa on the southern edge of Baraawe. They would turn immediately north toward the objective. This first six-man element of the team moved inland approximately 400 meters toward the concealment of low scrub. The other six-man element lay prone in the gently lapping waves of shallow water just off the beach until the flanking assault element was in place. A series of clicks on their updated, secure AN/PRC-126 radios would signal the first assault team was in place. Then the two teams would move toward the target, a two-story villa where the objective, a high value personnel target named Ahmed Abdi Godane, was supposed to be located.

The two elements of the assault team were in place. The wind was gentle coming just barely off the ocean, it was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun would not rise for another hour and forty minutes. Each member of the second assault element heard the clicks in their headset when the first element got into position. They responded with a single click of the mic button. Then each team member checked right, then left, clearing his field of fire and began a low, quick advance across the beach, trending right or north to the target.

barawa-compound

The building was surrounded by low walls on three sides and a high wall at the back. It made sense to go over the lower sections of the walls, enter the courtyard section, assault any threats that were providing security and then conduct the entry. Once the entry began, speed and violence of action was their primary tactic. They had to overwhelm what security may be in place quickly, assault the target building and secure the objective, detain Ahmed Abdi Godane or neutralize him, then exfil the target area. The primary extract route was by helo extraction near a defensible LZ south of the target area. The secondary extract was back out to sea.

Overhead surveillance by an RQ-170 Sentinel drone would provide a live video feed to the command center back at MacDill and help give the Naval Special Warfare operators on the beach a high degree of situational awareness via radio. What the Sentinel video showed now was troubling. There were more personnel between the insertion point and the objective than normal. Within the walled compound itself, no less than eight hot targets could be seen, some of them milling around from target to target as if they were spreading information. Outside, there were more than ten hot spots between the insertion point at the beach and the objective. The insertion would almost certainly involve contact earlier than they planned.

A common feature of operations in this region is that its difficult to tell who is a combatant and who is not from overhead surveillance. The hot spot on the drone feed may be a fisherman rigging his boat to go out at first light, or an insurgent walking a security perimeter armed with an automatic weapon and grenades. Until the assault team got eyes on they would not know from the drone feed. They didn’t have to wait to see to find out.

The insurgents initiated contact with one man firing a single round at one of the SEALs as he moved to a concealed position across the beach to establish the flanking position. The single round alerted every other sentry. The SEAL’s weapons were suppressed. When another assault team member put two rounds into the insurgent it didn’t make enough noise to be heard back at the compound a couple hundred meters away. Nonetheless everyone in the compound was alerted by the single shot, then the silence. Now they were coming outside the wall.

The assault team worked an “L” shaped hasty ambush on the objective, both teams directing controlled fire toward targets they could see. When the volume of returning fire began to increase the SEAL assault team leader radioed for a pair of Viper gunships from an assault ship orbiting off the coast to swing inland for fire support.

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The Viper gunships, an upgraded version of the AH-1 Cobra helicopter, overflew the target from the ocean. They banked hard and attacked facing back out to sea to avoid collateral damage from their guns. When the rounds from the AH-1Z Viper ‘s 20 mm cannon hit the compound the result was like cracking open a hornet’s nest. The pilot and gunner could see personnel and vehicles scatter through their Thales Top Owl helmet imagery system. White streaks showed the path of gunfire reaching into the dark to find the assaulters.

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Special operations is a fragile craft with a courageous heritage. But the reality is lightly armed men are flung against sometimes heavily fortified targets in inferior numbers. Their primary advantage is speed and violence of action. If their objective is compromised before it can be overwhelmed their chances of success evaporate by the split second. The SEAL assault force commander on the beach knew this well, having operated on both sides of this double-edged sword for a decade. He knew he had men inland a few hundred meters who risked being cut off from the sea extraction route and that securing a landing zone for extraction was, at best, an iffy proposition now.

The assault was compromised before it began. He signaled for mission abort and emergency extraction.

This contingency was well drilled. The beach fire team put 40 mm grenade fire on the target while the inland team broke contact, peeling back toward the sand and the sea. Each man covered the next in a modified version of the classic peel maneuver to break contact. The Vipers overflew the target at high speed and low altitude, this time flying inland and banking left or south, the opposite direction as before, then paralleling the beach on a gun run to cover the SEALs.

Only twenty-five minutes after the first assault element crossed the beach the team was back in the water as their assault boats raced back inland to recover them. After a twenty-minute swim to the east and south the recovery boats spotted the infrared strobes of the assault teams and the recovery was completed. The Vipers left their orbit along the beach just before the SEALs were picked up off shore and the assault force collapsed back out to sea as the sun lit the horizon an angry orange. It would be hours or even days until U.S. assets would know if the target had been compromised in the raid.

The raid on Baraawe to capture Ahmed Abdi Godane did not go as planned. It also was not a failure. While the primary objective was not achieved it may have killed or wounded Godane. If not, it sent a clear message to Godane and his men: The U.S. will cross the beach to get you before you can get us. Regardless of the results on the beach that night in Baraawe that message was sent and received loud and clear.

10:58 Local (15:58 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

“We’ll have teams of agents operating undercover all the way from the parking lots to the inside of the mall itself.” The FBI agent told Bob Davis. “We need to put some of our people under cover as store employees and mall workers over the weekend too. Prior to the weekend we’ll be installing some additional surveillance equipment outside and inside the mall. We’re pretty sure we know what we’re looking for and this surveillance should prevent any operatives from gaining access to the mall.”

Davis thought he should be reassured. The thought of installing security checkpoints at the entrance and exit to the mall was unthinkable. It would ruin business and attract the wrong kind of media. This softer approach seemed much less… obtrusive. He hoped it was enough. He noticed his hand shake again.

By Tom Demerly.

NOTE: This story is fiction based on news accounts. It does not contain factual depictions of any events from official sources.

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10:17 Local (15:17 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

Bob Davis felt a chill race up his spine and down his arms. He saw his hands tremble on the desk in front of him. His ironic sense of humor kicked in when he thought, “Well, Bob, that’s why they call it terror-ism.” He looked at the two men sitting across from him, their mouths moving, but he didn’t hear the words for a second. He forced himself to tune back in to their meeting despite a feeling that this couldn’t be real. It was like walking onto the pages of a Clancy novel.

“…Possibly V-IED’s in the parking lots, ah, that means vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, a car or truck bomb, like Timothy McVeigh used on the Federal Building, if you recall… There could be some form of crude, locally produced chemical weapon; chlorine gas, something like that. Those have big shock value with the media.  There definitely will be explosives and assault weapons used. They can source that equipment locally and may already have from gun shows around the Midwest. We have agents from the Bureau and the ATF at those shows. Even the NRA people have been helping us, but we can’t catch everything.”

Bob Davis manages operations for the Mall of the Americas in Bloomington, Minnesota. Over the past eight years he has seen women give birth there, the most elaborate shoplifting schemes every devised (and busted), a ring of prostitutes operating in the mall and a coyote that somehow made its way inside the giant shopping center on a busy Saturday night. This was the first time he sat across his desk from two FBI agents getting briefed on plans for a possible Al Qaeda style suicide attack on his mall during Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the busiest mall in the United States.

Davis was being briefed by the FBI about possible terrorist attacks at the Mall of the Americas two days after a pair of U.S. special operations raids, one in Libya, and one in Somalia. Sixteen days earlier Al Shabaab militants attacked the Westlake Mall, a U.S. style shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya. The FBI men told Davis it was a miracle only 67 people were killed in the Africa mall attack. Based on the damage to the mall, they felt the toll would have been higher. “Westlake was a test run for Al Shabaab. It was training for them, a field exercise. They won’t make the same mistakes twice.”

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The two FBI agents pulled up a file on their tablet computer. “Our estimates of casualties here at Mall of the America in a Black Friday attack are between 400 and 800 killed.”  Davis felt the grip of what an attack would mean. The country, the economy, Minnesota, his community, his tenants, his family, his job. He remembered the economic impact from the 9/11 attacks. He was 40 years old then, working for the Taubman Centers back in Michigan. They managed a large number of shopping malls around the U.S. The 9/11 terror attacks had gutted the company’s occupancy in the next five years when the economy tanked. And that hadn’t been a direct attack on a U.S. shopping center. What the FBI agents were describing to Davis now could sink the shopping mall industry in the United States.

“The real damage, though,” Continued the larger agent with the iPad, “will be the broader economic impact on U.S. business. Retail for the holiday season would be destroyed. Even the e-commerce guys, like Amazon.com, would take a hit since people would not only be afraid to shop at a mall, they would be afraid to shop, period, because of concern over another economic crash. This is the new 9/11. It really would be Black Friday”

Bill Davis had one question for the two FBI men, “So, what do we do to make sure this doesn’t happen?”

“Well,” The smaller of the two FBI men said, “We think we may have reduced the capabilities of the attackers to execute their previous plans, but we still need your cooperation here at Mall of the Americas, Mr. Davis.”

“I’m all ears guys.”

02:45 Local (23:45, 2 October UTC), Thursday, 3 October 2013, Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, Headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

Nine men were arrested in Africa following the Kenyan mall attack. It took a few days for… the authorities… to extract information from those nine men. Taken one at a time none of them provided anything that seemed of much use. But each minor detail they provided, from how they paid for their meals to how they learned to use their weapons, began to congeal into a pattern. When that pattern was fit against the sides of other patterns, now electronically in a basement in Langley, Virginia, there was a horrific conclusion: The U.S. was next.

Once that conclusion was reached the Director of National Intelligence was briefed. He briefed the President, a man deeply embroiled with a domestic political battle when Congress refused to approve economic changes forcing a shutdown of some government offices. The President and his staff were busy with, among other things, trying to manage the first ever White House online flaming campaign via e-mail and social media. Their target was Congress and their intent was to depict them as uncompromising and unreasonable. To his credit as Commander in Chief, when the briefing materials on the Nairobi attacks reached his desk, the President did not delay. He set the wheels in motion via Admiral William H. McRaven at MacDill AFB. McRaven is the ninth man to command the United States Special Operations Command at MacDill, a unified command that coordinates the training, equipment, doctrine and employment of all U.S. special operations units.

McRaven’s units include some of the most sophisticated military intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities in the world. These operate organically to the special operations community, from the field around the world back to MacDill, largely for the purposes of mission planning. The strategic intelligence may flow upward from McRaven’s units, or downward from Langley, but flow it did, in both directions. When the intelligence McRaven’s units had collected was collated with the information garnered from the West Lake Mall attack in Kenya the picture was crystal clear.

A big part of that picture pointed back to a beach house in the Somali coastal city of Barawa.

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Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, had been training local indigenous forces in the region.  They also collected intelligence from them during training. Both special operations and CIA operatives joined the activities related to Somalia at Camp Lemonnier to help with data collection and facilitate better, more context-based interpretation of intel. SPMAGTF Recon Marines had even conducted beach reconnaissance of some areas of the Barawa, Somalia coastline.  That hydrographic survey data, combined with signals intelligence, some limited HUMINT (human intelligence from operatives on the ground in the target area), satellite and drone images merged with data from the West Lake Mall detainee interviews.

Back at Camp Lemonnier, at MacDill AFB in Florida, on a ship off the coast of East Africa and in Langley, Virginia, planners held a web conference to review the final plans for a direct action mission to interdict the capability of Al Shabaab to carry out their planned U.S. mall attack.

It was Thursday night. The raid on Barawa was a “go”.

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03:50 Local (12:50 UTC), Saturday, 5 October 2013, 473 meters off the coast of Baraawe, Somalia.

High tide hit the rocky beach off Baraawe, Somalia at 04:38 hours under a dim, waxing crescent moon. Just before high tide the incoming tidal current urged the twelve combat swimmers of the Naval Special Warfare Combat Interdiction Group (formerly “SEAL Team 6 or “DEVGRU”) toward the rocky outcrops that lay just off the Somali coast. Swimming along the surface was easy; the black African waters were warm. High clouds filtered what little moonlight there was.

The assault team had left their F470 CRRC boats almost 2 miles off shore to prevent visual detection of the assault boats from land. The boats used sound suppressed motors that were extremely quiet. After dropping off the combat swimmers the rigid inflatable boats immediately turned back out to sea for recovery on a U.S. Navy ship that was even now steaming back toward the coast after the insertion.

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The first element of the combat swimmer/assault team would hit the beach, remove their swim fins and floatation vests then cross inland on foot less than a kilometer south of their target, a large beachfront villa on the southern edge of Baraawe. They would turn immediately north toward the objective. This first six-man element of the team moved inland approximately 400 meters toward the concealment of low scrub. The other six-man element lay prone in the gently lapping waves of shallow water just off the beach until the flanking assault element was in place. A series of clicks on their updated, secure AN/PRC-126 radios would signal the first assault team was in place. Then the two teams would move toward the target, a two-story villa where the objective, a high value personnel target named Ahmed Abdi Godane, was supposed to be located.

The two elements of the assault team were in place. The wind was gentle coming just barely off the ocean, it was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun would not rise for another hour and forty minutes. Each member of the second assault element heard the clicks in their headset when the first element got into position. They responded with a single click of the mic button. Then each team member checked right, then left, clearing his field of fire and began a low, quick advance across the beach, trending right or north to the target.

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The building was surrounded by low walls on three sides and a high wall at the back. It made sense to go over the lower sections of the walls, enter the courtyard section, assault any threats that were providing security and then conduct the entry. Once the entry began, speed and violence of action was their primary tactic. They had to overwhelm what security may be in place quickly, assault the target building and secure the objective, detain Ahmed Abdi Godane or neutralize him, then exfil the target area. The primary extract route was by helo extraction near a defensible LZ south of the target area. The secondary extract was back out to sea.

Overhead surveillance by an RQ-170 Sentinel drone would provide a live video feed to the command center back at MacDill and help give the Naval Special Warfare operators on the beach a high degree of situational awareness via radio. What the Sentinel video showed now was troubling.  There were more personnel between the insertion point and the objective than normal. Within the walled compound itself, no less than eight hot targets could be seen, some of them milling around from target to target as if they were spreading information. Outside, there were more than ten hot spots between the insertion point at the beach and the objective.  The insertion would almost certainly involve contact earlier than they planned.

A common feature of operations in this region is that its difficult to tell who is a combatant and who is not from overhead surveillance. The hot spot on the drone feed may be a fisherman rigging his boat to go out at first light, or an insurgent walking a security perimeter armed with an automatic weapon and grenades. Until the assault team got eyes on they would not know from the drone feed. They didn’t have to wait to see to find out.

The insurgents initiated contact with one man firing a single round at one of the SEALs as he moved to a concealed position across the beach to establish the flanking position. The single round alerted every other sentry. The SEAL’s weapons were suppressed.  When another assault team member put two rounds into the insurgent it didn’t make enough noise to be heard back at the compound a couple hundred meters away. Nonetheless everyone in the compound was alerted by the single shot, then the silence. Now they were coming outside the wall.

The assault team worked an “L” shaped hasty ambush on the objective, both teams directing controlled fire toward targets they could see. When the volume of returning fire began to increase the SEAL assault team leader radioed for a pair of Viper gunships from an assault ship orbiting off the coast to swing inland for fire support.

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The Viper gunships, an upgraded version of the AH-1 Cobra helicopter, overflew the target from the ocean. They banked hard and attacked facing back out to sea to avoid collateral damage from their guns. When the rounds from the AH-1Z Viper ‘s 20 mm cannon hit the compound the result was like cracking open a hornet’s nest. The pilot and gunner could see personnel and vehicles scatter through their Thales Top Owl helmet imagery system. White streaks showed the path of gunfire reaching into the dark to find the assaulters.

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Special operations is a fragile craft with a courageous heritage. But the reality is lightly armed men are flung against sometimes heavily fortified targets in inferior numbers. Their primary advantage is speed and violence of action. If their objective is compromised before it can be overwhelmed their chances of success evaporate by the split second. The SEAL assault force commander on the beach knew this well, having operated on both sides of this double-edged sword for a decade. He knew he had men inland a few hundred meters who risked being cut off from the sea extraction route and that securing a landing zone for extraction was, at best, an iffy proposition now.

The assault was compromised before it began. He signaled for mission abort and emergency extraction.

This contingency was well drilled. The beach fire team put 40 mm grenade fire on the target while the inland team broke contact, peeling back toward the sand and the sea. Each man covered the next in a modified version of the classic peel maneuver to break contact. The Vipers overflew the target at high speed and low altitude, this time flying inland and banking left or south, the opposite direction as before, then paralleling the beach on a gun run to cover the SEALs.

Only twenty-five minutes after the first assault element crossed the beach the team was back in the water as their assault boats raced back inland to recover them. After a twenty-minute swim to the east and south the recovery boats spotted the infrared strobes of the assault teams and the recovery was completed. The Vipers left their orbit along the beach just before the SEALs were picked up off shore and the assault force collapsed back out to sea as the sun lit the horizon an angry orange. It would be hours or even days until U.S. assets would know if the target had been compromised in the raid.

The raid on Baraawe to capture Ahmed Abdi Godane did not go as planned. It also was not a failure. While the primary objective was not achieved it may have killed or wounded Godane. If not, it sent a clear message to Godane and his men: The U.S. will cross the beach to get you before you can get us. Regardless of the results on the beach that night in Baraawe that message was sent and received loud and clear.

10:58 Local (15:58 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States. 

“We’ll have teams of agents operating undercover all the way from the parking lots to the inside of the mall itself.” The FBI agent told Bob Davis. “We need to put some of our people under cover as store employees and mall workers over the weekend too. Prior to the weekend we’ll be installing some additional surveillance equipment outside and inside the mall. We’re pretty sure we know what we’re looking for and this surveillance should prevent any operatives from gaining access to the mall.”

Davis thought he should be reassured. The thought of installing security checkpoints at the entrance and exit to the mall was unthinkable. It would ruin business and attract the wrong kind of media. This softer approach seemed much less… obtrusive. He hoped it was enough. He noticed his hand shake again.

By Tom Demerly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASerkovsky was a deal maker. He started as an oil broker then disappeared for a decade. When he re-emerged among the now Russian, formerly Soviet, elite his skin looked better, he looked more healthy and less stressed despite the missing decade. He was tan now.

Andrei Serkovsky carried two cell phones and was never far from his laptop. That many of the people who dealt with him never saw his office wasn’t a surprise. He moved effortlessly in social circles from Madrid to Cairo, knew the streets of St. Petersburg very well and favored Istanbul as a meeting place. While in Istanbul he rode in an anonymous but chauffeured Benz SUV. You could not see the run-flat tires and armor plating by looking at the vehicle. In all ways, Serkovsky moved discreetly, worked quietly.

As the crisis began he sensed an opportunity. While it wasn’t what he told people he did for a living, his business was solutions. Solutions to problems, conflicts.

Syria was just such a problem. An opportunity.

He would not, of course, deal with the primary players. Assad was an egotistical ass, the Russian power brokers driven exclusively by profit and the U.S. president manacled to a moral compass Serkovsky didn’t bother with. As usual, this deal would surface through… contacts. The seeds would be planted: a suggestion, an arrangement, a test, some preparations. Then the plan may run its course and whoever felt the need would claim credit (but never blame). He only expected payment.

In the case of a substantial deal, like this one, it was his custom to take a holiday afterward, provided all ended well. Ibiza in the spring since he favored young girls, Malta most other times since it was quiet and safe. He knew families there and loved the sea surrounding it. He also favored the Greek isle of Lesbos with its excellent food and quaint capital of Mytilene. But all that came later.

For now he sat rolling on the swells in the dark off the Syrian coast. He was near the city of Tartus in the moon shadow of the Hadyah forest. Impervious to seasickness from years of small boat operations and low-level flight, Serkovsky watched as a small launch approached his own boat in the dark. A pelican case filled with documents and memory devices was transferred from vessel to vessel, but no words were exchanged. His own craft came about quickly and set course for Cyprus, immune to surveillance by the U.S., Russian and Syrian forces thanks to a signal emitter onboard that showed his boat as different things to each of the three countries watching its radar image. He was granted safe passage on the night sea.

Once on land Serkovsky moved quickly. He carefully scanned encrypted files from his rendezvous at sea. Once the files were verified, not against any set of records but more against his own intuition, he sent a secure e-mail to someone in St. Petersburg. The next morning, a Sunday, that person proposed an interesting idea over a typically opulent Sunday government brunch. The deal would seem better discussed over fresh salmon, mineral water, dark coffee, fresh bread with rich butter and sweet jam.

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At the same time a similar package of information reached a suburb of Virginia in the United States. From there it was e-mailed to an office in the basement of a very large building in Langley. Five hours and a long lunch later a phone in Washington D.C. rang and an identical set of plans to the ones in St. Petersburg was discussed.

Within both sets of plans, the one in St. Petersburg (now moved to Moscow) and the one in Washington D.C., were the protocols for contacts. These contacts were made. The deals were brokered and began to move forward. As agreed, the initial announcements in the west came via the BBC and were reported as a “Russian proposal”. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov took initial ownership of the deal. He nearly tipped his hat when he said the deal would meet a “quick and, I hope, positive answer” from the U.S. and Syria.

It met with skepticism in Washington, at least within the White House. The people at Langley endorsed the solution but the D.C. crowd was a little more cautious, especially when they saw the price tag. Then again, it was cheaper than holding five destroyers and a carrier battle group in the Mediterranean for another three weeks- let alone launching Tomahawks.

Ultimately, the deal began to move forward. As Serkovsky monitored its progress, both overtly and through contacts, he did a mental accounting of his receipts from the deal. The Syrians were broke, so their contribution was the least significant and largely symbolic, or punitive. The Russian contribution was healthy since they were effectively getting credit for the deal and they were cash-rich. They were also good pays and Serkovsky had his closest contacts there, so he had the habit of leaning on them the most. He did most of his banking there so the Russians felt safe with him. The Americans were slow, reluctant pays given to complexity and delays since they were risk adverse to scandal. His payment had to be washed through some “black budget”, usually via Langley. Still, every U.S. dollar had a hundred cents, and $1.5 billion U.S. dollars held a lot of cents. They’d call it an “oil deal in the Bosporus region” or some bullshit.

For now all Serkovsky could do was watch and wait. The deal was on the table, or rather, being passed around under it, and it took time for both sides to take their part of ownership. Payment took another week.

Even so, Andrei Serkovsky allowed himself the distraction of clicking on a website for an Ibiza resort. It featured all night foam parties, pulsing trance music and a pair of 19 year old twins with long hair, one dark, one light, firm features and a penchant for wearing white in the foam parties then waking up on the beach with him.

He hoped the deal continued as proposed.

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When I was a kid my dad and my uncle read magazines like Men, Argosy, and True Adventure. I wasn’t allowed to see them since they were filled with scantily clad women. This made them all the more exotic so I secretly read them when I could. This, along with the more educational voice of National Geographic were influences that shaped my taste for travel and adventure.

The writing style of the men’s magazines was unique in voice. It was laced with drama and embellishment and written in a crude, masculine language common to men who served in the military or worked in blue collar assembly jobs. With the end of WWII and Korea a new generation was born who were exposed to the stories of men who served in two wars but who had never been exposed to the terrible realities of war themselves. For this generation, born in the ’50’s and ’60’s, the wars were a series of romantic, adventurous and exciting stories that inflated heroes to mythical status.  

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By the time the stories reached the pages of men’s magazines they were a long way from journalism. They had become bawdy tales, often sexualized, always exaggerated. I grew up on these stories. They created the demand for the Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean novels and were the precursors to Tom Clancy.

Some time ago another writer whom I’ve had the good fortune to accompany around the world, Ms. Robin Postell, inspired me to try to write a short story as if I were one of those writers for the men’s magazines in the 1960’s. It was more difficult to capture the language and feel of the writing style than I thought. Here is the final version:

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Death Dance of the Cong She-Devil: Navy Frogmen in The ‘Nam.

Lt. Steele doesn’t give a damn. He has too many missions in the Rung Sat Special Zone to count.  Steele cheated death by the skin of his teeth so many times they say he can’t die. He knows different. The only thing that keeps him out of a body bag in the Rung Sat is moving quieter and shooting faster than Charlie Cong.

Steele’s a frogman, Navy “SEAL” they call them. His team hunts Charlie Cong in the murderous Vietnamese swamp. It’s a dark green, stinking wet, real life hell.

The “Rung Sat Special Zone” holds a buzzing hive of deadly Cong half sunk in a stinking mangrove swamp that cuts the ‘Nam in half. Charlie Cong holes up in the Rung Sat because it’s impossible to move in- except for him. The mud is so thick it sucks the boots off your feet. The mangroves so twisted you’ll never see the black cobra that gets you. Your last worry is a Commie bullet since the Rung Sat kills most men before Charlie Cong does. The Huey choppers and Skyraider bombers fly over it, the PBR patrol boats skirt around the outside of it, but only Lt. Steele’s gang of tiger striped, green-faced frogmen hunt Charlie Cong inside the Rung-Sat.

And hunt Cong they do. Take the night of January 19, 1968. Word came down to Lt. Steele’s frogmen that a VC tax collector was making the rounds with a platoon of North Vietnamese regulars as bodyguards. That was normal. What was different was the tax collector was a woman, if you could call her that. You think of a woman as your Mom or your girl. You can’t think of Madame Kang Tomb like that. She’s a she-devil from the swampy jungle hell. The crack NVA guard that follows Madame Tomb fear her. They see her unspeakable acts on the peaceful little swamp-people and her own bodyguards. Tomb isn’t fussy. If you glance at her the wrong way, she’ll have your skin peeled off and string you up to a nipa palm for the ants and the sun to finish. It usually takes a couple days.

Steele got the word that Tomb was expected the following night in the Rung Sat. The information cost a Viet spy a bullet in his head. She’d make her rounds, take what rice and chickens the little swamp people had as tax, murder some during her she-devil death dance, then melt back North where she kept her hive surrounded by terror-worker bee NVA bodyguards. It was Steele’s job to make sure she met a bullet or a blade.

Steel’s men are a gang of roughnecks and he-men. Back in “the world” they were surfers, skin-divers and longshoremen.  All of his men are fit enough to win the Olympics. Here in the ‘Nam they’re green-faced murderers, paid to kill by Uncle Sam and made hard by the freezing waters of Coronado, California where only four men in a hundred could pass the gladiator training torture test called “Hell Week”.  The Navy would half-drown them, freeze them, make them crawl on their bellies ‘til their skin was raw then do it all over again for seven days and nights with no sleep. Some men went mad, others cried for mommy. A few became frogmen. Steele was one, his gang of green-faced assassins a few more.

Their sixth man is the mystery, a jungle tribesman named Nimh. They call him “Charlie Brown” since he loves hunting Charlie Cong and his skin is dark brown from the Vietnamese sun. Charlie Brown isn’t even five feet tall, maybe a hundred pounds after a bowl of rice. His brown skin is like cowhide leather. He could be a hundred by the lines in his face; they say he’s less than twenty. He carries a handmade crossbow that shoots deadly poison arrows, wears a thing like a filthy diaper. No boots or sandals. He fights mostly naked. And there is the necklace. You know… ears strung on a leather thong, cut from Cong killed with his poison arrows. The frogmen told Charlie Brown he’s not allowed to do that. Charlie Brown makes his own rules though. He really doesn’t follow any rules anyway, except kill Cong before he kills you. He has a knife tucked into his loincloth, an old Kabar the frogmen gave him. Charlie Brown is part of the team because of his nose, ears and eyes- and his thirst for Cong blood. He can track the Cong through the Rung Sat when there is no trace; smells a day-old cooking fire a click away. He hears the Cong’s whispers no matter how hard it’s raining or how thick the nipa palm and mangroves are.

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Lt. Steele carries a Remington pump action 12-gauge, sawed off short so he can swing the barrel quick from one charging Cong to another in the thick mangroves. Over his back he slings an M79 “blooper” grenade gun. On his hip he wears a pistol belt, gunslinger style, with a Colt .45 in a special canvas holster tied to his leg. He carries a custom Randall knife hand made in Florida. It has a short blade because, as Steele tells it, “Cong necks ain’t that thick.” Steele uses the 12-gauge because the brand new M16 Marauder rifle the army carries doesn’t work in the Rung Sat. They jam up, too delicate.  The bullets don’t cut through jungle. Steele’s men use the top secret Stoner machine gun, the M1 carbine used to fight the Japs in WWII and the new M14 rifle the Marines are carrying. Sure, the Stoner is fussy, but it spit bullets like a rancher spits Skoal, the M-14 hits like a needle-nosed freight train. Steele sticks to the sawed-off 12-gauge scattergun ‘cause he “likes to work close”. The SEAL-frogmen don’t wear normal battle uniforms. They wear special-made jungle camouflage rip-proof safari shirts with pockets sewn all over them. For pants the men wear regular blue jeans tucked tight into their Army canvas-topped jungle boots. Some men wear a green camouflage beret, others a narrow brim, camouflage beach hat. All of them rub boot-black on their faces so the only thing that shows at night are the whites of their eyes.  Steele wears extra slugs for his 12-guage across his chest in a specially sewn bandoleer like a Mexican bandit.

Just after midnight Steele’s frogmen loaded up in a low, dark green Navy motorboat heavy with machine guns and grenade launchers. It cruised on the black water with silent engines along the bank of the Song Dua River in the T-10 Special Military Zone. This is one of the many rivulets that feeds off the Long Tau Shipping channel into the Rung Sat.

Using his red-lens flashlight in the pitch black to save his night vision, Steele showed the Navy boat captain where he wanted to be dropped off on a map, right in the thick mangroves where the main channel meets the Ong Keo River. The tidal current runs fast through there so Steele’s men will wade directly from the boat into the chest deep water inside the mangrove hell. The Navy boat captain is nervous. This is the deadliest part of the Rung Sat.

The boat captain cut the silent waterjet engines early, letting the current carry them into the mangroves. Lt. Steele jumps first, his shotgun in hand. He sinks to his neck and half swims, half walks along the pitch-black, sucking mud bottom. He hears the “ker-plunk” of a snake falling out of the mangroves into the water. Charlie Brown is next into the water, too short to touch bottom he paddles like a dog along the shiny black surface with his crossbow on his back. The rest of the men follow, slipping silently into the water while the boat backs away and disappears downstream in the opaque blackness on the swift tidal current.

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It got shallower, the frogmen were almost on land, only waist-deep now, except for Charlie Brown whose bare feet just now touched bottom. They stopped. Listened. The jungle sounds drifted on black, humid air along with the fragrance of rotting vegetation and… smoke. Charlie Brown taps Steele’s shoulder, points off to the left, the due west, and the team of assassins slowly makes their way through tangled branches and ankle grabbing vines submerged in the black water. After an hour, they went 100 feet. Charlie Brown tugged on the back of Steele’s fatigue jacket, pointed his crossbow forward.

Barely visible in the darkness, up on the narrow, overgrown trail: a man in a triangular hat holding a curved-clip machine gun.

Cong.

In less than a few seconds the Cong guerilla is flat on his face with Charlie Brown’s poison arrow in his temple. Silence, not even a whisper. Steele steps forward, pointing his boots as he lifts his feet out of the mud, moving silently. There is a narrow trail where the VC sentry stood before he took a poison arrow to the head. Steele carefully skirts it, staying a few meters inside the jungle.

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He moves silently through the thicket as the ground comes up, and then onto solid ground, crouching down low. Charlie Brown squeezes Steele’s shoulder, he pinches his nose. Smoke. The village where Madame Tomb is reigning terror.

At the edge of the jungle the frogmen come on line. The man at either end slips around back of the village through the jungle, including Steele. He steps up to a thatch hut, unsheaths his Randall and silently slips it under the wall, turning it blade up. He cuts through the nipa palm thatch like flame through ice. Steele looks inside. Two men with rifles are sleeping there. He enlarges the hole and slides silently through it, into the thatched hut. First one man, then the other, both silently, both dead. Throats cut. He wipes the blade of the Randall off and stows it back in the leather sheath on his shoulder. He looks out the front of the small hut, too low for him to stand in.

Tomb stands in the center, villagers gathered around on the ground, sitting on their haunches. She collected baskets of fruit and rice. In front of her is a man, hands tied, on his knees. She’s getting ready to exact her toll on the Vietnamese swamp people. She raises her arms over her head in her weird murder-mamba dance, chanting an oath to the Commies as she begins to gyrate slowly in her death dance.

It’s too far for the shotgun, Steele might hit one of the tribesmen kneeling on the ground with the buckshot. It’s too close for his M-79 grenade gun. He pulls his secret weapon from inside his jacket, a Hi-Standard .22 caliber pistol with a silencer built on it. It shoots hollow-tipped bullets that blast apart when they hit Cong skin.

Steele takes a two-handed grip from inside the hut. Madame Tomb gyrates and chants her murderous mantra.

One shot chuffs clear of Steels’s Hi Standard, then two more. One to the head, two in her back. For a moment Madame Tomb seems bulletproof. Then, like a coon who only caught a piece of buckshot, she topples over. Dead. On the ground.

It’s silent for an instant, one loud VC voice barks. It’s drowned by a frogman lead orchestra as men on two sides of the village cut loose in an “L” shaped ambush. In less than a few seconds every Cong is down and bleeding. The couple that survive the crossfire scramble like monkeys back into the jungle, dropping their rifles in a terror-driven dash. The villagers lay flat on their face, terrified but unhurt. The black-faced frogmen are back.

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03:19 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 15 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber is nearly invisible to radar. But not bullets.

Pulling off target after a massive precision strike on the North Korean nuclear weapons development facility at Yongbyon, North Korea, B-2 Spirit number 82-1067, the “Spirit of Arizona” was leaving the target area at medium altitude and high speed. The aircraft was configured for minimum radar and signals observability with all lights retracted and emissions restricted. Spirit of Arizona was one of three B-2’s that leveled the nuclear research facility in a massive conventional bombing raid, the largest of the New Korean War so far. While it would take a few hours to collect bomb damage assessment data the satellite images would show the raid was a complete success, with the entire research facility, storage areas and the reactors themselves being completely devastated in a hail of precision guided 2000 lb bombs.

Now all the crew of Spirit of Arizona had to do was get themselves and their nearly invisible, completely defenseless, two billion dollar aircraft out of the most heavily defended airspace in the world and back to Diego Garcia.

03:22 Hr.s Local. 37,800 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 28 miles southwest of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Sojwa (Major) Kim Si Gwok had more hours in MiG-29 Fulcrums than every other North Korean fighter pilot except for two. He did have the most time flying the Fulcrum using night vision goggles, a particular distinction considering the North Korean Air Force did not have enough night vision goggles compatible with the MiG-29 for all the aircraft they owned. That distinction put Maj. Gwok on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in his MiG-29 tonight over the critically strategic target of Yongbyon as part of the air defense for the facility. That the American stealth bombers had already gotten through to hit the nuclear facility was a major failure for the North Koreans.

Maj. Gwok knew Yongbyon had been hit within the last few minutes, likely by cruise missiles or American stealth bombers. Gwok couldn’t do much about the cruise missiles. He read about British Spitfire pilots in WWII who had defeated the first cruise missile, the German V-1, by flying next to them and flipping them over with their wingtip. That would be impossible with the low altitude American Tomahawks. But, if there were stealth bombers in the area that he may be able to shoot down, he was going to try to find them. As a lifelong combat pilot he felt he had a sense of what the enemy’s egress route from the target might be, the shortest distance to the coast.  So that was where he went looking for the “invisible” American stealth bombers.

In March 1999 the Yugoslavians used a combination of ground based observers and expert search radar operators to shoot down an F-117 stealth fighter. It was a lucky shot, a golden BB, and it proved stealth wasn’t invulnerable. Major Gwok knew this. He knew that, other than stealth, the American batwing bombers were defenseless. If he could see one, he could shoot it down.

03:28 Hr.s Local. 35,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 41 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Mission Commander, Capt. Bill Myers of Pensacola, Florida and Aircraft Commander, Maj. Dave Evans of Boulder, Colorado were getting constant secure updates on the air defense environment through their secure datalinks onboard Spirit of Arizona as she ran toward the coast after hitting Yongbyon. The three strike aircraft followed different egress routes in the very unlikely event an enemy aircraft or air defense crew could somehow visually acquire one of the B-2’s at night. Since the B-2 was a fast, subsonic aircraft, was relatively quiet, painted black to blend with the night sky and operated at altitudes to avoid contrails the chances of an enemy fighter pilot visually acquiring them was almost zero. But not absolute zero. Myers and Evans knew the entire North Korean air defense network would be up looking for them with everything they had. Even with the most sophisticated combat aircraft in history they still had to get out of North Korean airspace without being seen.

Local youth becomes a fighter pilot for a day with 301st FS

03:29 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 47 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok didn’t really see the American stealth bomber as much as he saw what appeared to be a slit in the night sky. Reflected light from humid air at lower altitudes cast a low, soft glow upward from the ground below. The sky had a gently silver tinge to its black emptiness except for a small sliver of dead black below and to the left of Gwok’s MiG. Not knowing the sensor capabilities of the American stealth bomber, if that is what he saw, Gwok turned gradually to align himself with what he thought was his potential target’s heading. He gently moved the stick forward and, as his MiG closed the distance to the sliver of black the descent also added airspeed. His approach was perfect, high and behind. If he was right, this looked too easy.

03:29 Hr.s Local. 34,000 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 51 miles west of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Myers and Evans knew they were in deep trouble. AWACs told them over secure, stealthy datalink  communications that there was an enemy aircraft high and behind them. There was a remote chance it could visually acquire them. There was nothing they could do except recheck the low observable settings and the make sure the throttles were firewalled so they could get out of North Korean airspace as quickly and invisibly as possible. If it wasn’t already too late.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 37,700 feet, North Korean MiG-29 Fulcrum, 49 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Gwok wasn’t quite sure it was an American stealth bomber at first. Through his visor, the night vision goggles and his canopy the image was ghosted and dark. A black slit in the otherwise pixellated sky. Then two bright rectangles of green bloomed in front of him; the exhaust heat from the B-2’s four engines. Even though they are channeled and louvered to prevent a large infra-red signature from below they still pump out a lot of heat as seen from from above. That heat lit up Major Gwok’s night vision goggles. His fingers flew over his console to unsafe his GSh-30-1 cannon. The instant the safety selector was slewed to “FIRE” his gloved finger clamped down on the trigger at the front of his stick. The 30 millimeter cannon tore off a succession of white-hot shells in a bright line of arcing white dots perforating the night sky. They expanded out in a wide curve and faded. Gwok jinked hard right, largely from instinct but also to avoid overrunning his target or even colliding with it. He didn’t know if he scored a hit. He pulled hard back and right on his stick, describing a tight circle to come around and see if he could spot the black stealth bomber.

As Gwok finished his tight 360-degree turn and rolled wings level he saw something trailing flame through the night sky, cartwheeling straight down toward the earth like a black, burning boomerang.

03:30 Hr.s Local. 34,400 feet, B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber “Spirit of Arizona”, 55 miles southeast of Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea.

Alarms lit off inside the cockpit. The nose went down and Evans tried to add power and gently pull back but there was no perceivable control response. The aircraft began to shudder, then pivot oddly beneath them. It was falling apart. The G-load increased and the aircraft entered a spin like a boomerang. Evans got one hand between his legs and into the ejection handle as he said, out loud into his mask, “EJECT, EJECT, EJECT!”. Myers never heard him. He may have been fighting the losing battle to save the aircraft, he may have been wounded, he may have been dead. He never made it to the ejector seat handles.

The B-2 spun nearly 180 degrees in the air, nosed down and began to topple like a kite freed of its broken string. The top of the flying wing’s fuselage exploded in a spit of flame as Maj. Dave Evans’ ACES II ejection seat rocketed free. It flipped end over end at first, falling through 15,000 feet until it stabilized somewhat. At 10,000 feet the barometric altimeter automatically released Evans from the seat and his parachute began to deploy. The ejection, like all escapes from a crashing airplane, was violent. The severe vertigo was made worse by the darkness. Evans lost consciousness from the centrifugal force of the seat spinning after his egress from the crashing airplane but came back into a hazy state of alertness once his parachute canopy opened and he was scooting along under it at a steady speed with the prevailing winds. He didn’t know it, but the winds were carrying him toward the west coast of North Korea.

A disadvantage to being a stealthy aircraft is that, when the aircraft goes down, it is very difficult for rescuers to know where to look for the surviving crew, if there are any. Major Dave Evan’s ejector seat was equipped with a ProFIND SLB-2000-100 locator beacon. The beacon is a part of the pilot’s survival kit packed into the seat pan of the ACES II ejector seat. It actuates automatically when the pilot separates and dangles below him as a part of the survival kit package. At 9,500 feet above the ground Evan’s locator beacon began to transmit.

AWACS

03:40 Hr.s Local. 45,000 feet AGL, U.S. Air Force E-3G Sentry AWACS Aircraft, 21 miles west of North Korean coast.

Airman 1st Class Stephanie “Stuffy Stef” Monroe, an airborne sensor operator oddly prone to allergies on board an E-3G Sentry off the coast of North Korea, saw something on her monitor she had only seen in training. The flashing icon indicated an incoming emergency locator beacon from a pilot’s survival kit. She keyed her microphone to the on-board mission commander. In less than one minute half of the crew of the E-3G were shifting their workloads to a new priority; rescue one of the most sensitive assets in the U.S. military- a stealth bomber pilot.