Operation Determine – Afghanistan 2001/2002
In the New Year they reassembled back at their Hereford base and the troop was told they would be operating in Afghanistan for a number of months. Edge was noticeable by his absence and Morrison gathered his team together.
“Mark Edge won’t be coming with us,” He told them, “He had flu before that aircraft storming down at Newquay, so god knows how he got through it. He hadn’t properly recovered after being wounded in Kosovo and I reckon the flu on top was the final nail. Whatever the case, we’ll have to do without him for a few months. We’ve got a new lad from the boat troop to cover, Wayne Hallard, so let’s welcome him as part of the team. Guy, will you shadow him for a bit, make sure he’s got everything he needs?”
“OK, Boss,” Jarvis affirmed, secretly rather pleased that Edge would be out of the way for a while. It wasn’t that he disliked the rather insular Edge, it was just that he made him feel uncomfortable and definitely like the new kid on the block.
They flew out to Qatar on a British Airways flight, their weapons in sealed containers marked as diplomatic baggage. In the Gulf State they transferred to two C130s with four WMIK Land Rovers and flew east down the Gulf, turning north across Pakistan and into Afghanistan. The two RAF transport aircraft landed at Bagram and they drove south towards a newly-enabled airstrip near the Afghan/Pakistan border at Gardez. The base was very austere and consisted of a single cleared runway and operating platforms for helicopters. Two Chinooks joined them after a number of days. They spent the intervening time “acquiring” kit from other bases to make their operating base as comfortable as possible. The engineers made a fuel dump out of the huge, rubberised “bollocks” and the signallers installed comms equipment and more importantly, cable and satellite television.
Initially their orders were quite loose, to scout the border areas in an attempt to bring the dispersed Taliban into battle, but after the hiding they had received from the American bombers, the Taliban didn’t feel like playing, but they were there, biding their time and recouping their strength. But the Blades were under no illusions, they were part of a force that was hunting down Osama Bin Laden, for his masterminding of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.
They prowled the area for Taliban and a lead on Bin Laden without any success and the locals seemed very reluctant and reticent at their presence. They were out in the Cuds on an unfruitful sweep and had paused for something to eat, when Morrison framed their problem.
“The trouble is we can’t speak their language. We don’t even understand their culture. We’ve got about as much in common with these people, than we would have trying to understand the people in the Dark Ages.”
“Plus everyone is too terrified of us, or rather the Taliban to even volunteer to interpret for us,” Jarvis noted, “Money means nothing to them, because they know as soon as we’ve gone, the Taliban will slot them.”
Wayne finished a bag of cold pasta and meatballs from a ration pack and said with a full mouth, “There’s one of the Crabs at Khost who can speak the local language. Pashtun isn’t it?”
“How do you know?” Morrison asked.
“The other troop went out to the airfield at Khost for a spot of pillaging. There’s an RAF detachment there, waiting for the jets to come in. Apparently, one of them goes out with the Rockapes to speak with the locals.”
“Is he a Raghead, one of the locals or a Pakistani interpreter?”
“No, it’s one of the RAF crowd and it isn’t a he. She’s a she apparently and a bit of a looker, if you like them tinged.”
“Part of the RAF’s diversity quota?” Morrison asked cynically.
“An intelligence analysist, whatever they are.”
“That’s very interesting, Wayne. I’ll speak with the boss when we get back.”
That evening they were relaxing with a couple of beers in the mess tent, watching womans’ beach volleyball on the AFN Cable Network. Morrison came into the tent and sat down with a satisfied smirk on his face. Cooper pushed a can of beer over to him.
“You look pleased with yourself.”
Morrison opened the can and took a long guzzle, then smiled at them, “There’s been a change of plans. Tomorrow we’re going fishing.”
“That’s right. Assuming the signal comes in from Directorate Special Forces, we’re popping over to Khost to net us a Pashtu speaker. Cooper, see if you can tee up some accommodation for her, tonight if possible.”
“We’ll have to make some adjustments to our routine, but not too many I hope. If it looks like she’s a liability then we’ll get rid of her. I will ask you to be as patient and understanding as you can and we have a duty of care for her and to keep her out of trouble.”
The next morning Morrison collected a signal from the Joint Operations Cell and the four of them set out in a WMIK, heading north-east towards Khost. The country’s main ring road, built by the Soviet forces was relatively quiet, although they did see some American patrols and waved as they passed. The city of Khost was packed with women shrouded in Burkas, mainly black although some hussies were wearing a daring blue. They assumed there was a market on somewhere and the local womenfolk were hurrying to grab a few bargains. The airfield was littered with the burned-out hulks of aircraft that had been bulldozed off the hardened parking areas. The engineers were still repairing bomb craters from the American strikes, getting it ready to take the jets. The WMIK pitched up at the airfield’s security post, defended with sangars made out of concrete tubes and manned by members of the RAF Regiment. Morrison jumped off the Land Rover and went to speak with the gate guards.
“We’ve got a priority signal for your detachment commander. Could you tell me where he hangs out?”
“Over at operations. That’s the building on the right after that row of tents.”
Morrison smiled, “Thanks. Do you have a POL point?”
“Do you need to refuel?”
“Best to be on the safe side.”
The Regiment Gunner pointed across the single runway, “The fuel dump is over the other side of the runway. Don’t worry. There’s no air movements yet, not till we fix the runway.”
Morrison went back to the Land Rover, “Cooper, you come with me. Wayne and Mr Jarvis, take the vehicle over to the fuel dump and fill her up while we get the Crabette.”
Morrison and Cooper headed for the Ops building and introduced themselves, “We need to see your boss. We’ve got a priority signal.”
They tracked down the detachment commander, a wing commander and gave him the signal, which he read.
“This is most irregular,” he said to Morrison.
“Possibly is, Sir. But our Director Special Forces regards this SAC Khan as mission critical because of her language skills. There must be plenty of intelligence analysists back in the UK, but she’s here and she speaks the lingo.”
“John, will you track down SAC Khan and ask her to come and see us.”
The runner came back with a young looking Asian girl, whose camouflaged smock was too big for her. She was about twenty, small and very striking with her dark hair twisted into a bun. But it was her violet eyes that were mesmerising, as thought she was measuring up the situation, staring at these two newcomers, who were dressed in a mixture of British, American and Afghan clothing. They scrutinised her like she was a particularly unusual specimen. The man who seemed to be in charge of the pirates smiled at her.
“You speak Pashto fluently?”
“Yes, and Arabic, Urdu and Bangla.”
The man in charge of these strange visitors looked at her. He regarded her with a critical eye, a sardonic half-smile playing around his mouth. But despite the head scarf and the mean-arsed demeanour, by God he was handsome and he knew it. He had taken the time to shave unlike his companion and his eyes never left Afarin’s. She stared back at him defiantly. It was as though he expected something of her.
“SAC Khan, these gentlemen have requested that you be seconded to them for a few weeks and they have paperwork that is signed off by the Directorate of Special Forces, which rather trumps the Air Component Commander.”
“I see,” although she didn’t, “When?”
“Now, treacle,” the chief pirate said, “Get your kit, luv but don’t bother with your personal weapon. You won’t be needing it. Go and pack your kit. We’ll be waiting outside near the tents in the WMIK.”
“Wimmik?” she asked, her mind spinning, “You’re SAS aren’t you? What on earth do you want me for?”
Morrison smirked, “Guess. It’s because you’re a cunning linguist and a WMIK is a Land Rover Weapons Mount Installation Kit. Basically a Landie with lots of guns.”
She went off and the wing commander spoke quietly to Morrison, “You will look after her, won’t you?”
“Like she was my own sister. Don’t worry sir, we promise not to break her. She won’t be put in harm’s way.”
The Land Rover returned from the fuel dump and Jarvis and Cooper went in the back, Morrison in the front next to the driver. They saw her come out from the tent line, the girl struggling with her kit, which they hauled on board.
“I hope you remembered your hair dryer,” Jarvis said, “I have so much trouble keeping mine tangle free.”
She looked at him, scowled and climbed up into the back.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“To our base near Gardez, a couple of hours away. What’s your name?”
“No, your first name.”
“Hello, Afarin. What a lovely name. That’s Henry, the boss, Wayne is your driver, that reprobate is Cooper, his Christian name is too embarrassing to utter and I’m Guy.”
She nodded shyly and looked at the weapons mounted on the vehicle. She seemed so small and vulnerable, with a hint of excitement and another emotion. Obviously fear at the unknown, but there was something else. Jarvis looked at her closely and she caught his eye, staring back with reticence and… It was defiance, he decided. He smiled at her and she looked away. Jarvis was completely and utterly captivated by her.
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