Ad Dumayr Syria 23rd February 2018
Working through her grief, Ripley ritually washed Pela’s little body and then went back into the dead fighter’s hut and found a beautiful, royal blue chador in the dead woman’s possessions. Why she had brought such a beautiful garment to a God forsaken hole such as this was a mystery to Ripley. She took it back to her hut and dressed Pela in the clothes, making sure her serene face could be seen. Then she fashioned a cross out of two pieces of wood, laid it on her chest and folded her arms over it. She said the Islamic prayer for the dead and then the only Christian prayer she could remember, the Lord’s Prayer. Rigor Mortice would soon set in, but she hoped to be gone by then.
Ripley stripped off completely, washed herself. It was as though she was subconsciously trying to cleanse herself of mortal sin. Then she rummaged in her rucksack and put on a pair of tight, black jockey shorts, a close-fitting, black t-shirt and a pair of Reebok training shoes, again black. She strapped the Glock to her right thigh and the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife to her left, then tied her hair back in a ponytail. Then she smeared her face, neck, arms and legs with soot from the bottom of the Russian mess tins. Finally she pulled the niqab over her head, put on her watch, then sat and cleaned the AK47 and checked the magazines and rounds. Her stomach was a knot of tense expectation and a strange excitement, which troubled her. Tonight she would be fighting and she cared little whether she lived or died.
The inside of the HAS seemed crowded. There were thirty-four of them in there, a generator providing lighting. Sixteen blades, the four comms team, eight aircrew, Cécile Hammond and Phillips plus Major Shwetz with three other Russians. The helicopters had been re-fuelled and air tested earlier that day and all the comms kit and krypto had been loaded onto the two Chinooks. The Supacat and pick up would be left behind with the disabled Stinger missiles.
Halward had borrowed a white board and marker pens from the Russians and he had transferred his initial planning drawings onto the white board. There was an expectant hush apart from the gentle throb of the generator. Feeling self-conscious, Halward stood in front of the white board with an improvised pointer.
“Gentlemen, this is a story you shall tell your grandchildren, and mightily bored they’ll be,” As in the film A Bridge Too Far, there was nervous laughter in the HAS. The Russians looked blank.
“This diagram shows an area in the centre of Ad Dumayr and for the purists, the datum point is the corner of this building, 33°64N 36°69″E. This large apartment building in the centre of the map is our target or more specifically one man who lives in it. As you can see, the building is surrounded by fruit and date trees, which will give us cover.
“Our mission is to enter this building and capture Daffi Hashmi alive, then fly him to the Prince Hussein Air Base in Jordan,” Halward repeated the task, “Our mission is to enter this building and capture Daffi Hashmi alive, then fly him to the Prince Hussein Air Base in Jordan.
“We will be in two teams, one in each helicopter. I will lead the red team in the leading Chinook and you, Captain Pearce will lead green team. Red team is the primary assault force and led by Ripley, we will enter the building. Green team will cover the rear or western aspect of the building and double as the back-up assault team should we run into any trouble.
“I’ll cover green team first. I would suggest your approach should be from the south to land in this open area to the north-west. You four comms guys will move to this area of vegetation to the north-east and cover any approach from the north or west. I’ll leave it to you, Captain Pearce how you break down your troops, but these two compounds to the west will need to be covered, as well as the southern and western approaches and if you are needed as assault back-up, you will enter the building by the rear doors.
“OK, we’ll move onto red team now. The LZ will have to be covered. Manny, you will move to the corner of this compound with a Minime and cover the eastern approaches. Larry, you will move to the area between these two buildings with a Minime and cover the south. Wing Commander Hammond and Staff Phillips will be with the red team. You will remain on board the helicopter.
The rest of us will comprise the assault and cover force. Our helicopter will approach from the east and on touch-down, Shippers with a Minime will move to this south-east corner and cover. Frank, you will take another Minime to this north-east corner and cover. Both of you are back-up to the five who will be going into the building. We will move up to the first floor via the central staircase. There are eight apartments on each floor. Our target is in this first one on the left, off the central corridor. Ripley will cover this area and I will cover this corridor. Mr H has the Remington with bridging rounds for the doors. Mengele, you will have the frame charge for the apartment’s main door and the Taser. Ruth, you are the gunman in case Mr Hashmi has company.
“Ripley was unable to ascertain which of these two bedrooms he is in and there is a woman living with him. She may be armed, Ruth. He is to be taken alive, hence the Taser, Mengle. All of you will rear-sling your C8s apart from you chaps with Minimes in case we have to fight our way out. Frank and Shippers, do not enter the building unless we call you in for support. The exfiltration is the same as the routes in. The aircrew will have a separate briefing once I’ve finished. Remember when you’re moving into position to avoid the front rotors like the plague so leave and approach from the rear. No approach from the ten to two-o-clock because the helicopters will be burning and turning on the ground.
“OK, now the service support. Ripley has paced the approach from the Red LZ to Hashmi’s flat and she reckons it can be covered on a lick in one minute thirty. Manny and Larry will leave the aircraft first, then Shippers and Frank followed by the rest of us. Ripley should be waiting for us in the trees by the front door. She will have a red cylume. Off and back on the helicopters in under five minutes. The helicopters can cover their three and six-o-clock with their rotary guns, but you providing the LZ cover will be vital. You will be first off and last on. Timings are: take-off at 01:40 with wheels down at 02:00. Wheels up at 02:05.
“Everybody with role radios and C8s. NVGs on. Call signs are our nicknames. Mr Pierce will be Green One and his 2IC will be Green Two. Any casualties will be carried to the Green LZ’s helicopter to be flown back here for treatment in the Russian MTF Captain Pierce will notify and request medics if any of his team are casualties. Shippers and Mengele will provide in-transit care. You can’t afford to hang around on the ground if we sustain casualties, so a quick handover in the MTF and then dust-off on to Jordan. Hashmi is the priority and we will go on independently if there are any casualties.
“If we lose a chopper, then we all go in the one left. If we lose both, we will fight our way back to this location on foot and in the finest traditions of Bravo Two-Zero. One hundred and eighty rounds per person and four belts per Minime. We leave no man or woman behind. Questions?”
Surprisingly Major Shwetz raised his hand, “Major Halward, will the sound of the helicopter not give them a warning?”
“I don’t see any other way round it and I’m hoping speed will give us the edge.”
“What if we flew a two ship of Mig 29s over the town five hundred metres altitude at 01:58? It may provide a distraction.”
“You would be prepared to do that, Major?”
“I still think it’s a damned fool undertaking. But good luck to all of you. We will light the MTF’s landing point if you take casualties.”
“Thank you for all your cooperation, Major. Any more questions?” There were none, “We’ve got just under two hours. Check all of the kit and we’ll do a radio check five minutes before embarking. God’s speed to you all.”
The aircrew went to their own briefing, routes in and out, timings and call signs to Jordan and actions on problems. Cécile and Phillips sat apart feeling like spare parts.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have flown straight to Jordan,” Phillips observed.
“Because just talking to Ripley and the other troops who were down in that factory has given me priceless background on Hashmi and the way his mind works. It will prove invaluable for when I meet him.”
“Hmmm,” Phillips wasn’t so sure, “You anxious?”
“No, I’m terrified and then I think of what Ripley’s been doing.”
She looked at her watch. It was 01:30. She put on the webbing and her head veil then slung the AK47. Ripley went over to the bed and gently laid her hand on the dead girl’s head.
“Goodbye, Pela. If you haven’t begun your journey yet, wait an hour for me. I might be joining you.”
She slipped out of the compound and headed south towards the leafy centre of the town. She was careful and stopped every so often to check around, but she failed to see the Bosniak who was following her. He was a sniper who was good at his craft. She crossed the main highway between the mosque and the pharmacy and went down a narrow track with walls on each side, then heard a tiny noise behind her. Ripley’s heart began to thump and she squatted down as though relieving herself and delved under the niqab. She slipped the Fairbairn-Sykes knife up the left sleeve of her garment and stood up.
The Bosniak approached her, “Having a piss, English Widow? What are you doing, roaming the streets after curfew?”
“I am not answerable to you, Adnan.”
“Then perhaps your betrothed would be interested that his future wife was wandering the streets like a whore,” He got out his mobile phone.
“Don’t call him.”
“Why ever not, Widow Khan?”
“Because I can make it worth your while,” She went across and sat on a low wall at the side of the track, “You want me don’t you, Adnan?”
She opened her legs, “I haven’t been fucked in over two months. Are you man enough for me, Adnan?”
He grinned and moved over to her, unbuckling the belt on his trousers, “Very soon the best part of me will be running down your thighs, Khan.”
“Not too soon I hope, Adnan.”
He grabbed her breast roughly and pulled down his trousers, then yanked up he niqab.
“Get rid of those shorts,” he said with a note of frustration.
“You’ll have to take them off. Come on then,” she said hoarsely, let’s see what you’ve got.”
He loomed over her and her left arm came up. The seven inch blade of the knife slid up under his sternum and tracked upwards inside his ribcage. The blade was angled slightly to his left and Ripley made a posterior sawing motion. The Bosniak gasped and a dribble of drool came out of his astonished mouth as the double-edged blade cut through his aorta. He began to sink to his knees but she heaved him over the wall, following him to land on his back. She dragged his head back by his hair and cut his throat to make sure. He made a bubbling sound and then was still. She could smell his blood on her niqab and she pulled it off with disgust, throwing the soiled garment over the body.
“Ripley, are you OK?” asked the voice in her skull. It was Dallas, but he didn’t sound amused this time.
“I’ve just had to deal with a complication.”
“But is it all right now?”
“I am. He’s not. His name was Adnan, known as the Bosniak. He’ll be on somebody’s watch list. They can remove him from it now.”
“Jesus, Ripley. They’re off line now but we can still communicate with the aircraft. They are ready to go.”
“OK, Dallas. Thanks.”
She jumped back over the wall, grabbed her rifle and set off at a fast jog towards the apartment block. Ripley hid in the deep shadows as a car drove slowly past the mosque and it was 01:45 by the time she pushed through the trees to the east of the block. She waited in the cover of the shadows under the grove of trees and thought, If you and your merry men don’t turn up, Paul Halward, I’m fucked.
At 01:55 she heard the distant rumble of jet engines in the night sky to the east. As the minutes crawled towards 02:00, the distant jet engines were getting louder and closer. Two jets screamed overhead with afterburners blazing like blowtorches and the noise was visceral, but then she felt the passage of disturbed air as a Chinook went overhead to land to her north. Ripley broke the cylume stick and shook it, then heard the sound of bodies pushing through the trees. She moved to the front door of the flats and the first one to close in was Halward, closely followed by James, Mengele and Mr Hogan. James looked at her tight-fitting clothes in surprised approval.
“Fuck me! It’s Malala Croft,” he exclaimed.
They dashed through the front doors heading for the central stairwell. Ripley was up two at a time, her AK47 pointed ahead of her. At the top of the stairs she went left through the fire door and placed her hand on the door of the first apartment to her left. Halward was across at the fire door to the other wing.
Mengele placed the frame charge in the doorway and tightened the clamps holding it in position against the jambs. Ripley ducked into a doorway and the charge went off. She lay down to cover the corridor as James went through the demolished door, followed by Mr H with the shotgun and Mengele. He blew off the hinges of the first door on the right and James went in. He swept the room. No beds. Just clutter and empty.
The procedure was repeated with the second door on the right and James went in first again. The room was granular, swirling with smoke and green in his NVGs. A naked girl screamed and rolled off the bed reaching for something on the chair, next to her side of the bed. James killed her with a three round burst before he realised with horror she had been trying to grab her niqab to hide her modesty. The man rolled off the other side of the bed and came up holding an AKM with a folding butt. He fired a burst at James before the Taser’s needle points hit him in the chest and he started to writhe in the agony of electrically induced muscle spasms.
James had been side-on to Hashmi when the burst of fire hit his torso. Two of the 7.62mm rounds hit the ceramic front trauma plate of his body armour, flattening and breaking up, one deflected off at an angle and went through his left hand, removing his ring finger, but two more hit the Kevlar shell to the right of plate. The Kevlar absorbed some of the impact of the high velocity rounds but the material was never designed to stop bullets travelling at 738 metres per second. He was blasted across the room by the 2,170 joules of energy of each of the four rounds and he thudded into the stud wall, which cracked inwards.
The two rounds punched through the Kevlar shell, each one weighing eight grams, the first shattering the fifth right rib, which broke up and the fragments and the tumbling round ploughed into the pleural cavity and through James’s right lung. A fragment of bone nicked the internal thoracic artery, which started to bleed. Most of the bone fragments and pieces of the round remained within the pleural cavity, wedged within and close to his left ribcage, held within his chest by the Kevlar shell of the body armour. The second round passed through the fourth intercostal space, missing the fourth and shattering the fifth rib. The flattened round was still travelling at supersonic speed on its passage through the pleural cavity, passing between his heart and spinal column. By now it was tumbling and hit his fourth left rib and shattered parts of the full metal jacketed round, bone fragments, strands of Kevlar and pleural tissue were blasted out of the exit wound in a pink mist.
James screamed: “JEEZUUUSS,” and began to cough up bright, red blood.
Even while they were cable tying the still twitching Hashmi, Warrant Officer Hogan was on the role radio, “Star shine from H, Ruth is down, I repeat, Ruth is down!”
“Shippers, Frank, get up here now!” Halward ordered.
All sixteen troopers and the four comms technicians heard the casualty report, which was picked up on the helicopters as well. Ripley didn’t hear the radio message because she wasn’t wearing a role radio, but she heard the gunfire from the flat behind her. At that time she was being kept busy, persuading people to remain in their apartments with short bursts of fire from her AK47. She began to realise something was wrong when Shippers and Frank Carson barged through the fire door and into the flat.
They had to move fast. Mr H and Frank Carson lifted Hashmi by the cable ties and began running him downstairs and towards the helicopter on Red LZ. Ripley looked over her shoulder just as Mengele and Shippers were dragging James’s body out of the doorway to the stairs.
She screamed: “James!”
“Rear fire door,” Halward yelled, “It’s the quickest way to the Green LZ.”
They were struggling with James’s weight and Shippers had a Minime and both were carrying their medical Bergens. She fired some more bursts down the corridor to keep people in their apartments and then followed the two carrying James.”
“No, Ripley! Get on the helicopter with me. Let the medics do their job.”
“Fuck off Major Halward! I’m going with James.” She hurried down the stairs after them and lifted James’s feet to stop them dragging. His head was lolling and they were leaving a trail of his blood.
Halward shook his head and followed Mr H and Frank Carson towards the Red LZ. As far as he was concerned now, Ripley could go and fuck herself, “OK everybody. We’ve got him. Re-embark, re-embark. Green One from Star shine, you have a casualty and medics inbound for transit to MTF.”
“Roger, Star shine. Embarking now.”
Shippers and Mengele were gasping for breath as they ran through the trees towards the helicopter. The rear ramp loadie was keeping everyone out of the way and pointed to a clear area on the deck of the helicopter near the rear ramp. The four comms technicians were the last on and stepped over James, Ripley and the frantically working medics. The Chinook lifted under their feet, tilted forward and accelerated in a left-hand turn, heading back to the airfield. The other Chinook went up like an express lift over the top of the apartment block and turned left as well, then straightened on a southerly course, heading for the Jordanian border. They had been on the ground for five minutes and thirty-two seconds.
Shippers and Mengele dumped their Bergens on the deck and began to pull out medical kit. Ripley was holding James’s face and weeping uncontrollably.
“Ripley, get out of the fucking way!” Shippers yelled at her, “Hold his hand and squeeze, but let us do our fucking jobs!”
They began the battle to keep James Ellis alive, on the twisting, pitching and juddering deck of the Chinook. They were kneeling in his blood and his wide, terrified eyes stared up at them.
“Come on, James fight with us and take the pain,” Mengele worked on James’s head, neck and airway and he put in a central line to administer replacement fluids for the blood running out of the holes in his chest. Shippers stripped off his body armour and clothes to find the entrance and exit wounds. The loadmaster was Paramedic trained as he was on the Squadron’s SF Flight and he handed medical kit from the Bergens as they asked for it. They could all communicate by radio, apart from Ripley who was inconsolable with grief.
“What the hell is it with Ripley and James?” Mengele asked.
“Do you walk around with your eyes closed?” Shippers said scornfully as he pulled the adhesive backing off the first Asherman chest seal, “They are in love with each other.”
“Really? Goodness me.”
“I sometimes wonder about you, Jamie.”
They worked on him for the duration of the flight back to Ad Dumayr airbase and it was the longest fifteen minutes of their lives. They knew that James was slipping away towards that long, endless sleep. The Chinook flared above the MTF’s helicopter landing point and a Russian trauma team was standing by with a field trolley. Mengele, Shippers and Ripley carried him off the aircraft and put him on the trolley. Shippers gave the handover to the Russian doctor on the trot as they headed for triage. She was as pretty as a Ukrainian mail-order bride.
“Superficial wound to left hand with traumatic amputation of ring finger. Major high velocity firearm trauma to the thorax. Entrance wounds right-hand-side, exit wound upper left-hand-side. Two penetrating rounds with fragments still in the chest cavity. Severe internal bleeding and shattered ribs both entrance and exit sides with suspected internal cavitation. Traumatic pneumothorax both lungs, two Asherman chest seals applied. One litre of Haemaccel 3.5 percent and we have administered Celox clotting powder, not internally. No morphine has been given.”
“Good,” said the Russian doctor, “We will take him now. Thank you.”
The medics turned but Ripley continued to follow the trolley, “No Ripley. You come with us,” said Shippers.
“No! I’m staying with James.”
“Ripley, we will sedate you and carry you on board the helicopter if necessary. There is nothing you can do.”
They grabbed her and dragged her towards the Chinook.
“Let me go you bastards!”
They forced her into a seat and strapped her in and the helicopter took off. Shippers put his arm around her and tried to calm her.
“I couldn’t bear it if anything happens to him. If he dies, then so do I!”
“Come on, Ripley, stay strong and be positive. He was still alive when they took him into the MTF,” Just.
Ripley put her head in her hands because she couldn’t bear to look at the sploshing pool of James’s blood on the Kevlar padded deck.
© Blown Periphery 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file