8/9th February 2018 – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Washington DC and Islamabad
FCO Travel Advice for Pakistan: Local travel
The Pakistan authorities currently advise that “all foreigners, including diplomats may not move out of their city of residence without proper security and without prior co-ordination with the law enforcement agency”. This requirement has not been rigorously enforced, but you should consider informing local authorities of any travel plans, and be prepared to be stopped and challenged by officials, who may instruct you to turn around.
When travelling in Pakistan, you or your travel company should contact the local authorities of your destination in advance to check the local security situation. They may arrange police protection as necessary and will advise whether you need a No Objection Certificate issued by the Pakistani Ministry of Interior.
You should exercise care in selecting accommodation and take precautions to maintain safety and keep a low profile.
Like the British SIS the CIA uses members of the US Special Forces to undertake dangerous, clandestine operations in both friendly and hostile nation states. Originally these hand-picked teams were designated as SEAL Team 6, but they are now known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU. The unit is comprised of seven colour coded line squadrons, with Black Squadron being responsible for reconnaissance, intelligence and surveillance. There were eight members of Black Squadron operating in Mingora that evening, four based in a property that was level with the walled complex and four more conducting close reconnaissance. Because of the height of the walls, only the top floor of the villa could be directly observed.
A Lockheed U2 had taken off from the United Arab Emirates that morning and had flown east across Oman, gaining altitude, then north into Pakistan. By the time the aircraft arrived on station over Mingora its altitude was 70.000 feet. In a slow, leisurely turn over the city suburb, its sensors in the nose, Q-bay (behind the cockpit, also known as the camera bay), and wing pods were transmitting real time imagery of the villa complex in Mingora. The images were sent live by satellite links to the Black Squadron operatives far below, SEAL Team 10 in Bagram, the Pentagon and the Head of Naval Warfare in Virginia. The images showed the internal layout of the complex, the licence plates of the five vehicles parked inside the walls and the routine of the four guards who were on duty at any one time. Infra-red hotspots identified the living areas, kitchens and areas of the building where most of the people were gathered. The U2 remained on station for four hours, during which time it built up a comprehensive intelligence picture of the complex and its activities. The pilot was relieved to be heading back to base. His urine collection device had leaked. The CIA was now well inside Yusufzia’s OODA Loop.
At 17:15 a car left the complex and drove the 1.5 kilometres to a garage in the west of the city. The garage had been under surveillance by four members of the British Special Forces E Squadron, who were cooperating and sharing information with the US Black Squadron. The car had been followed by a Black Squadron vehicle at a discreet distance and the British operatives confirmed it had arrived and picked up Gamal Kirmani. The car with its passenger returned to the complex and the Black Squadron comms in the surveillance building sent four words in encrypted code. Song of the South.
Less than one hundred kilometres west of Mingora at a forward operating base near Asadabad in Afghanistan, sixteen members of SEAL Team 10 were awaiting the orders to activate Operation Poseidon Key. The activation could only come as a Presidential Order from the White House. They were fully combat ready, armed and equipped, camouflage war paint applied, morphine autojets in the body armour pouches and gold Kruger Rands issued to each team member. Outside of the air conditioned tent, four helicopters of the United States Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), abbreviated as 160th SOAR (A), but known as The Night Stalkers stood with engines pre-warmed and ready, crews in situ. The aircraft were two MH-60ms, an AH-6M attack helicopter and an MH-47E carrying medical team if there were casualties and to transport the prisoners. It was also a standby cab in case any of the other assets were forced to crash land.
The Lieutenant who would lead the SEAL assault group felt a familiar knot of anxiety that he always felt before a mission. But he knew that his men were ready and they had practised the assault in a representation at Bagram, laid out with ISO containers. Once he and his men were on the helicopters, the anxiety would go. He knew they all felt the same and it was the waiting that was the worst part.
Two other air assets were airborne at that time. A Rivet Joint aircraft that was permanently on station and a much smaller aircraft that was heading across the mountains and into Pakistan. This aircraft had no pilot or urine collection device, leaking or otherwise. It was a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, better known as a Predator Drone. Although it had taken off from Bagram on receipt of the Song of the South code words, the unmanned aircraft was being operated from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. It crossed into Pakistan near Asadabad, but at least 25,000 feet above the SEAL’s FOB.
The Reaper didn’t have outstanding performance, but then again, it didn’t need it. Its economical 950hp turboprop pushed the aircraft along at a respectable 194 mph cruising speed and its endurance was fourteen hours. It was simply a flying seeker and destroyer, its real power being the AN/DAS-1 MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System and the four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles that it carried. The two operators in their air conditioned control cabin at Creech Air Base, acquired and locked on to the villa complex southeast of Mingora, put the Predator into a holding pattern and waited for the order to destroy the complex once the SEAL team had exfiltrated.
It was just after 10:30 Local in Washington D.C. and in the White House they were also waiting. In the command centre the President had seen the live footage from the U2 earlier and they were now reliant on the live feed from the Predator. The President was with his newly-appointed Secretary of Defence, a retired US Marine, the Secretary of State and his Chief of Staff, also a retired US Marine. Accompanying them was a Naval Captain from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.
“Mr President, we must give the order as soon as possible,” insisted the Secretary of Defence. The Chief of Staff nodded adamantly in agreement. The Naval captain remained silent. He had given his briefing and it was for the Commander in Chief to make the decision.
The president stared at the Predator feed of the complex, his mouth set in a harsh line, his profile stern and purposeful, “I am not content to risk the lives of Servicemen engaged in an operation in what is supposed to be an ally’s country. We have discussed the other options available to us.”
The Chief of Staff glanced at the Secretary of Defence in what could have been exasperation, “Mr President, when we discussed the other options, it was made clear that the insertion of the SEAL Team provided us with the best means of gathering intelligence and keeping an important ally on side and within the Five Eyes Alliance.”
The president thought long and hard about that important ally and even when he had been first briefed about British intentions, he had concluded that the plan was inept and had the hallmarks of the Prime Minister all over it. It was a dumb idea and he had tried to tell her that. She hadn’t appreciated his advice. And then he thought about the views of a British Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who said in the Mother of all Parliaments that the US President was “either a racist, incompetent or unthinking – or all three.” In response, the Home Secretary, hardly supportive of the head of the free world told Parliament “we have been clear [that] the President was wrong to retweet videos hosted by the far right group, Britain First.” Britain First was not a prescribed group at that time in Britain, let alone the USA. And then he thought about Pakistan and the SEAL Team and he made up his mind.
“Our Pakistani friends have been playing us with a double hand. That’s bad and I want them to get a message,” And then he thought of the concerted insults from the British political class and the media and he wanted to send them a message as well, “Stand down the SEAL Team and the Black Squadron. The two terrorists are in a separate wing of the house, away from the family quarters. Destroy it and whoever is in it.”
“Mr President! We are throwing away the opportunity to harvest valuable intelligence material.”
The 45th President of the United States stood up, “I have given you my order. Carry it out.”
Despite recent Pakistani pledges to cease further involvement with Afghan “internal conflicts,” Iranians, Indians and Afghans generally agree that Pakistan has no interest in abandoning its use of certain Islamic terror groups (like the Taliban) to put pressure on neighbours. This is considered a problem for everyone, especially the Afghans. Worse, few people in the region (especially Afghans and Iranians) expect the Taliban to agree to a ban on Taliban controlled Afghanistan again becoming a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Many Afghans are wondering why the Americans are even negotiating with the Taliban, who have long demonstrated that they cannot be trusted. Iranians are particularly wary of this as they see the Taliban as inherently anti-Iranian. Iran also has issues with the Afghan drug gangs, who continue to produce, with Pakistani cooperation, all that heroin, opium and hashish. Much of it gets out of Afghanistan via Iran and that has turned the Iran/Afghan border into an increasingly bloody battle zone. The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism rather than a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view as do a growing number of UN members.
If the Americans should leave and take most of their foreign aid with them, the Taliban would still have their Pakistani backers and drug gang cash. The anti-Taliban Afghan majority would have numbers and support from Iran. The Iranians oppose the drug gangs and the Sunni Islamic terrorists, especially the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIL who see Shia as heretics and subject to death if they do not embrace Sunni Islam. This confrontation is a recent (the 1970s) development as Saudi support for the Afghans fighting the Russian effort to impose a communist dictatorship was crucial. The Saudis supplied cash, weapons, and missionaries to convince the Afghan rebels that they were defending Islam against the godless communists, not just battling another unwelcome foreign army. Before the Saudis introduced their conservative Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam, most Afghans were Sunni but of more moderate persuasions which did not target Shia or any other form of Islam as worthy of extermination. There were battles between Sunni and Shia tribes but was mainly about tribal disputes, not religious ones.
The fundamental problem for Afghanistan has long been endemic corruption. This makes it very difficult to run the country effectively when any law or regulation can be bypassed with a large enough bribe or a convincing enough show of force. This makes it possible for drug gangs to produce and export most of the world supply of heroin. The Taliban sustains itself by providing security for drug gang operations as well as extorting and stealing cash and goods at every opportunity. The corruption stems from the tribalism which fell out of use in the West, China and elsewhere centuries ago. But in Afghanistan it persists and it is an inefficient and, for the people involved, expensive and deadly historical artefact to live with.
Pakistan has been intimately associated with the Taliban since its birth in the mid-1990s. The ISI provided support to Mullah Omar when he founded the organisation in Kandahar. It had trained Omar even earlier in the 1980s at one of its training camps for the mujahedin that fought the Soviet occupation of the country. Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognised the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in the late 1990s (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the other two). By 2001, Pakistan was providing the Taliban regime in Kabul with hundreds of advisers and experts to run its tanks, aircraft and artillery, thousands of Pakistani Pashtuns to man its infantry and small units of its Special Services Group commandoes to help in combat with the Northern Alliance. Pakistan provided the oil needed to run the Taliban’s war machine. All of this despite a half dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on all countries to cease aid to the Taliban because it was hosting al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. According to the 9/11 Commission, the ISI had been a mid-wife for the alliance between Mullah Omar and bin Laden, so it was no surprise that Pakistan ignored the UN.
The Pakistani authorities would get the US President’s message loud and clear. ISI wanted to hit back at the Americans. There were plenty of US aid workers in the country who could be abducted and murdered to send a counter-message, but any response was tempered by the $990 million that Pakistan received from the US in 2017. Britain on the other hand contributed £441 million and Pakistan was the largest recipient of foreign aid paid for by the British tax payer. ISI was astute enough to realise this president would react quite robustly if US citizens were murdered at the behest of the Pakistani security services. So if they couldn’t retaliate against the Americans, they would attack the next, best thing.
Cécile had noticed a distinct cooling of relations within the British High Commission since her perhaps ill-judged comment on lurid dossiers produced by former SIS employees. Ash had phoned her and told her that it was pointless to travel to the High Commission before nightfall, as no operation would take place until then. She suspected that it was more to do with his being extremely annoyed with her. Cécile had managed to annoy some powerful people during her Service career, and if a medium grade staffer in the High Commission chose not to speak to her, she gave not one jot.
But on the other hand, she was troubled that Phillips was decidedly cool towards her. While he maintained a respectful professional relationship, she realised that he was still annoyed, or worse, disappointed in her. The insecure part of Cécile needed if not to be loved, then to be at least liked and respected. She was bored in her room waiting for the evening and it felt like being under house arrest. What was worse was she couldn’t use the pool or gym, because even in this five star hotel, there were still gropers and perverts, usually rich Arabs from the Gulf States. She had never watched much television and had stupidly forgotten to pack a book. She decided to offer an olive branch and assuage her boredom at the same time. She rang Phillips’ room.
“Mr Phillips, have you got anything to read?”
“Err, hang on a moment,” He sounded slightly distant, as though he had been asleep or… She nearly giggled out loud at the thought. He sounded more awake when he came back on, “Only Runners World or Camino Island by John Grisham. Should be right up your street.”
“Hmmm,” she thought out loud.
“There’s a library downstairs. Give me a few minutes to get dressed and we’ll go down together.”
Perhaps he really had been, she thought and did giggle this time. She was waiting outside his room when he came out. The “library” was really just a cabinet containing books that guests had left behind in hotel rooms and it was a pretty eclectic mix in various languages, but there were quite a few books in English.
“I don’t want to read a bodice ripper, where his strong, muscular arms enveloped her and she bends to his will.”
“That’s very good. You should write for Mills and Boon. What about something set in a courtroom, where the beautiful, aloof and haughty defence lawyer eventually falls for the charms of the prosecuting council, with his salt and pepper hair?”
“Yuck!” she said with some feeling and then looked at him shyly, “Have you forgiven me yet, Mr Phillips?”
“You are an idiot, but at this moment in time you’re my idiot. What about this one?” he asked holding up a paperback.
“The Lord of the Flies? I haven’t read that one since I was at school.”
“I bet if you read it again you would have a totally different take on it.”
“You think so?” she asked, not convinced.
“I read it a couple of years ago. Very dark with adult themes, concerning the descent into evil savagery. It could stand as an analogy of the times we live in.”
Cécile took the book back to her room and started to read about Ralph, Piggy and Jack until the evening.
When they got to the High Commission, there was a palpable sense of expectation within the Military Attaché’s department. Ash seemed to be in a better mood and at least managed to greet Cécile cordially.
“Things are definitely going to be happening tonight,” he told them, “Both the Americans and our chaps are in position and we’re waiting for the SEAL Team to fly in and storm the complex. Once we know where the Americans are going to take them, probably Bagram, then you can fly across in the 146. We’ve submitted diplomatic clearances. It’s just a case of hurry up and wait now.”
Ash had set up a satellite phone with speakers, because they didn’t have the live feed from the Predator, and would have to rely on comms from the E Squadron team. And they waited for a couple of hours, the time dragging by. Ash was beginning to be concerned.
“The assault team should have been in position some time…”
The satellite phone rang and Ash put it on the speakers, “Err, we’re not sure what’s happening, but our cousins have told us to get the hell out. They’re pulling out as well… Holy Shit!”
There was confused babbling.
“What is happening?” Ash demanded.
“The complex has been hit. Two missile strikes. The entire wing they were in has gone. Sorry but we’re getting out of here. The Pakistani cops guarding the front are firing blindly in the air and at everything that moves.”
Ash looked shocked, “They’ve killed them. The bloody Americans have killed them with a missile. Look, I’m sorry but I need to contact London and let them know what’s happened. There’s no point in your hanging around here. You might as well fly out tomorrow. I’ll let you know if anything changes, but I’m afraid it looks like Parinoush Mahar has been killed with a drone strike.”
He left and Cécile and Phillips looked at one another.
“Well that went well,” she said.
“I suppose you could say it’s one less case you have to prepare.”
The next morning, Cécile had two calls, one from Ash who confirmed the Americans had killed both Mahar, Yusufzai and a number of Yusufazi’s henchmen with two Hellfire missiles, fired from the Reaper drone. The second call was from the 146’s pilot telling them the aircrew were leaving early to prep the aircraft for an 11:00 take off back to the UK and they would see them at the airport at 10:00. Cécile and Phillips went down for a leisurely, light breakfast before the flight.
“Well what did you think of it?” Phillips asked her.
“What, last night’s debacle?”
“No, Lord of the Flies.”
“You’re right. The themes are very dark. The bit about the dead pilot parachuting down onto the island, made me feel quite disturbed. Quite depressing to me given our present circumstances.”
After breakfast Cécile paid for both their rooms with her Government credit card and carefully kept the receipts, because unlike MPs, her expenditure would be properly audited. She told the man on reception they would be vacating their rooms and leaving at 09:30. The man effusively thanked them for staying and watched Cécile’s backside sway back towards the lifts. He shook his head, excused himself to his female colleague and made a phone call.
Phillips spent twenty minutes checking underneath the hire car delivered the previous evening, the wheel arches and inside the boot and engine compartment, before opening the door and checking under the seats and the door trims. Unsurprisingly he missed the tracking device inside the plastic cover of the air filter. Satisfied he then drove round to the main entrance of the hotel. He opened the boot and Cécile put in their two bags and went round to the left-hand passenger’s seat.
“You wearing your weapon?”
“Affirmative, Mr Phillips. Would you like to pat me down to be certain?”
“That won’t be necessary, Ma’am. Ballistic glasses on please.”
Suddenly Cécile felt a mortal dread, which chilled her to the marrow, “Mr Phillips, I have a terrible feeling about this journey. Could we change our route to the airport, please?”
He looked at her with disbelief, “What do you mean, a terrible feeling?”
“I can’t explain because I don’t understand it myself. Please believe me, I just know.”
He mentally sighed, “OK, I’ll head south and then west for the airport, but we’ll still have to get on the duel carriageway to the roundabout.”
Dear God. Save me from women who just know.
He drove out of the car park, and they waited at the junction onto the Khayaban e Suhrwardy road, to then double back at the Constitution Avenue roundabout to head west to the airport. The traffic was busy as it approached the roundabout and a low loader breakdown wagon pulled into the outside lane to let their car out. Phillips waved to thank the driver and they picked up speed towards the roundabout, Phillips looking for a gap to get into the outside lane to do a 180 at the roundabout. The breakdown truck had a 4×4 on the back and as it passed their car, it suddenly swerved in and blocked them in. The truck passenger door opened, as did the two left hand doors of the 4×4 on its back. The men who got out were wearing suits, but they were also carrying the paratrooper version of the AKM assault rifle with folding stocks.
The most important time of a dangerous incident is the moments just after the awareness that something is wrong. Although the brain has processed the danger and alerted the adrenal glands on the kidneys to produce adrenaline, many people’s fight or flight impulse doesn’t kick in, often because the danger is so unexpected. Time is wasted asking the brain to re-process the inputs, or completely ignoring them. This is why people stop to collect hand baggage in a burning passenger jet or finishing their drinks on a sinking ship, or just waiting for someone to tell them what to do although the course of action is obvious.
Years before when she was a teenager, her uncle had been matter-of-factly brutal with the young Cécile, “One night the Kaffirs will come for us. You must be prepared for it. They will show you no mercy so the gun is your friend. Don’t hesitate, don’t stop to think. Kill them, kill as many of them as you can. Centre of mass, two shots at each target, because that is what they must be. Targets. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Uncle,” she had said, wide-eyed with excited morbidity.
And while the day spent in the killing house and on the ranges at Hereford had sharpened her shooting drills, the time spent on the farm near the Kruger National Park had formed her reactions and the will to live.
“Enemy front!” she yelled, drawing and cocking her SIG. Phillips thought this was rather stating the bleeding obvious as he looked round for a way out. He slammed the car into reverse and accelerated quickly before the incoming traffic from behind completely hemmed them in.
On the Hereford ranges, Jarvis had taught her how to fire through the windscreen. With her first magazine she had missed all except one target she clipped on the head.
“You’re going high,” Jarvis explained, “Because the bullet hits the toughened glass sloping down and away from you, the top of the bullet is slowed while the rest of its mass is tilted upwards.”
She had shaken her head failing to understand, so Jarvis drew a diagram in his notebook and she understood.
“It’s almost like refraction in water. Conversely, the opposite happens when you’re firing into a car, so the rounds go low.”
Cécile aimed low and fired two rounds through the windscreen at each man on the truck, using the last on the nearest figure raising his AKM. One went down, falling onto the road, the second spun round dropping his weapon as he had been hit in the arm. The third dived back into the cab. She dropped the empty magazine and reloaded, flicking off the slide lock allowing the working parts to go forward.
Phillips was weaving around oncoming vehicles that were hooting angrily at him. She caught sight of a movement in the bushes to her left and the passenger’s window erupted inwards with fragments of toughened glass. The 7.62mm rounds cracked through the car and out of the driver’s window. She felt one pluck her sleeve and a burning sensation on her upper left arm. Another round blasted the rubberised trim off the steering wheel an inch from the driver’s hand.
“To our left as well!” The car was moving backwards quickly now and she was being thrown around as Phillips chicaned around other vehicles. She emptied the second magazine into the bushes and saw a figure fall back. Then they slammed into a Toyota, which hurled them back into their seats. Cécile reloaded with difficulty as Phillips burned rubber and headed towards the carriageway’s central reservation. He swerved around a concrete block and the car burst out of the bushes, travelling the wrong way down the opposite carriageway. The car threw up dust and debris at the side of the road as Phillips swerved to avoid an oncoming bus.
They went the wrong way round the Constitution Avenue roundabout, generating a great deal of anger among Islamabad’s already erratic drivers. Cécile craned round to look behind and saw a black 4×4 with darkened windows following closely, also on the wrong side of the road.
“We’re being followed.”
“Tell me something I don’t know!”
“What’s the plan?”
“Head for the High Commission. Hang on I’m turnin…”
There was a wumph from the back of the car, which lifted and flames were obscuring the rear view. They were assailed with the stench of burning rubber and smoke was billowing into the car’s interior. Phillips looked at her.
“OK, we’re not going to make the High Commission. That crash must have ruptured the fuel tank. Plan B. Head for the security checkpoint of the embassies, complex and take the vehicle pass. I’ll try to hold them off.”
The car ground to a halt and Cécile leaped out and took cover behind the bonnet. The rear end of their vehicle was burning furiously. She saw Phillips bale out in a roll, coming up kneeling, his Glock in the aim.
Which one are you? She thought, Bodie or Doyle? Definitely more Bodie than Doyle, apart from lacking Lewis Collins’ luxuriant hair.
“Come on Ms Hammond, move your arse!”
She was up and sprinting towards the security checkpoint. The Pakistani policemen looked at her uncertainly and unshouldered their weapons.
“Don’t shoot, we’re English.” Of course that would make all the difference.
She went down on her knees and held her arms out to the side, after ripping off the head shawl so they could see her blonde hair. There were pops from behind and the heavier thumps of an AKM. The Pakistani security detail seemed paralysed with indecision. Fortunately two members of the Overseas Gendarmerie from the French Embassy pushed out from the checkpoint. They began to engage the black 4×4 behind the billowing black smoke with their FN SCAR assault rifles. They circled the still firing Phillips and yelled at him to put down his weapon in French. Cécile repeated the order, shrieked in English. Phillips complied and the black 4×4 hurriedly reversed through the traffic, colliding with another car and headed west. It left behind an immobile body.
The French Gendarmerie thoroughly searched the two of them while they were lying on the ground. Cécile explained in French who they were, what had happened and ignoring the Pakistani security detail, the Frenchmen hustled them into the embassy enclave. In the grounds of the British High Commission, Cécile started to shake.
“I think I left my gun in the car,” she wailed.
“Don’t worry, you can afford it on your wages.”
She suddenly grabbed him, hugging him close, shaking and weeping with delayed shock, “Thank you Mr Phillips. Thank you for saving us.”
Rather self-consciously he hugged her back, “It’s me who should be thanking you. I take back what I said about you Crabs. It might still be a hobby, but some of you are quite good at it. By the way, there’s a hole in your nice Barbour jacket.”
© Blown Periphery 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file