Operation Hussite – October 2005
Jarvis was having a late morning in his flat at Abergavenny, watching the young woman make them brunch. He had to admit that she was very easy on the eye, wearing one of his Norwegian shirts that came up to her lower thigh. He sipped his tea and felt the gnawing of hunger, the late lie-in kind and one of which couldn’t be satisfied by food alone. Her name was Hafwen and he had met her at a photography class in the local college night school. He wanted to brush up on his practical photography, she aspired to be a professional photographer. She worked in a local travel agent and Jarvis thought she was very cute.
She knew what he was and never pried, grateful for having met him and they were happy in each other’s easy company. Hafwen really liked Jarvis because he was kind, considerate, gentle and compassionate and because he had let her into his life where they shared an easy intimacy. But she was no fool and didn’t hold out any unrealistic expectations for the future. One day he would be gone and he may never come back. It was as though he was waiting for someone else, perhaps someone he had met in the past, or even the thought of a different future that Hafwen knew she would never be part of it. She was grateful for what she had even though her doubts and worries would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
She sat on the bed next to him while she waited for the bacon to cook and he had to admit, she did the Norwegian shirt far more justice than he ever could. He put his head on her lap and smiled up at her.
“Have you ever been to Harlech before, Hafwen?”
“That sounds like: In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen.”
“Sorry, don’t understand.”
“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, you know, from My Fair Lady,” She explained.
“You’re a one, Hafwen.”
A one but not the one. She thought ruefully. Traipsing around old, ruined castles would have filled her with indifference normally, but she was spending time with Guy and somehow knew this was precious.
“And don’t forget your camera.”
“I’ve told you, I want to be a professional photographer, weddings and stuff like that.”
“Ah but what about if a couple want to be photographed with a castle in the background?
She put her hand on his face, “You take your camera, Guy. I’ll just look decorative and demure in the shadow of English dominance and savagery.”
“Your lot don’t care much for King Edward, do you?”
“And you wouldn’t like it if Owain Glendower built his castles in England, would you.”
”He was dead by the time Edward Longshanks built his des res in Wales,” Jarvis pointed out, “And he was too busy hammering the Scots to be concerned by a bunch of sheep worriers.”
She pinched his nose and stood up to put on the eggs, “I need to feed us you Bastard Saesneg.”
“See, you don’t even have proper swear words in your stupid language and have to borrow ours.”
The bacon and eggs were just perfect and as he finished his tea, he concluded that life couldn’t get much better than this.
“Thank you, Hafwen. That was really good. If you ever feel like a change of employment there’s always…”
Jarvis’ mobile phone went off and he cursed, going back into the bedroom. It was from Morrison, so he had to take it.
“Morning, Guy. Sorry to disturb you on your days off, but we have a job.”
Jarvis cursed again mentally, “What kind of job?”
“Can’t tell you over the phone but it’s an away match for a month at most. Can you get in for thirteen hundred?”
Jarvis looked at his watch, “Yeah no problem,” He ended the call and threw the phone on the bed,
“Hafwen, I’m really sorry, but we won’t be going to Harlech.”
She was tidying away the breakfast things and sighed, “You have to go away don’t you? How long this time?”
“No more than a month,” He looked at the bergen he kept permanently packed with twenty-eight days of kit as they all did, for quick deployment.
“I thought this was down-time for training and personal admin?”
“Yeah, but something’s come up. No idea what. Come and sit on the bed.”
She complied, albeit with a slight, petulant pout that he found most endearing.
“I’m really sorry, Hafwen, but you’ll have to take that Norwegian shirt off.”
“Why, do you need to take it with you?”
“No, I’ve got a Puffa-jacket but we’ve got an hour before I need to set off. It would be a shame to waste it.”
She pulled the Norwegian shirt over her head and looked down, “I’m cold, Guy Jarvis.”
“So you are,” he pulled the quilt back, “Best we get warm…”
Hafwen was crying as she always did after coming. Jarvis cuddled her and heard her muffled voice.
“I wish you didn’t have to go. You’re always “different” when you first come back.”
“It’s just a job, Hafwen. It pays the mortgage.”
“There are other jobs.”
“But nothing that makes you feel so alive.”
“Until it kills you.”
“Just a job,” he said and kissed her tenderly, “That’s all.”
Morrison, Cooper and Edge were waiting for him in the squadron ready room. Edge. Jarvis’ heart sank.
“Afternoon, Guy,” Morrison said.
Cooper grinned at him, “All right, mate?”
“Mark,” Jarvis said, “What’s this about, Boss?”
“It’s a sniper job in Basra or Basra Province,” Morrison told him.
“Why us? There’s more blades out there than you can shake a stick at. There’s all the boys on Op Crichton. Why can’t they do it?”
“Because this Op’s being run by MI6, so we’re not officially out there. We’ll go straight into the SF Compound for a briefing, or rather Edge and I will. You and Cooper don’t need to know who or what the target is. You will be the protection for the shooter, Edgie and me the spotter. You know how these things work.”
“When do we go?” asked Jarvis.
“Tomorrow. Out on a 146 from Northolt to Basra, but this afternoon we’re going to the Sennybridge Ranges to check zeroing on our personal weapons and of course, the rifle. Back here in a week hopefully.
Out in theatre, Morrison and Edge went into the SF Operations Cell within the Compound for a special briefing by an officer from MI6. Jarvis and Cooper familiarised themselves with the ground with oblique photographs that had been taken by a Tornado. Their area of operations was a southern outskirt of the town of Amarah, bounded on one flank by the River Tigris, Al Majar to the south and the Coalition base of Al Amarah to the east.
They had taken over an eight man Corimec where they could prep their personal weapons and the minimal kit they would have for the mission. While they waited for the others to finish their briefing, they lay on the beds, relaxing.
“If it all went wrong, this Op, could you kill yourself?”
Jarvis thought about the question, “I really don’t know whether I’d have the guts or inclination to top myself. In life there’s always hope.”
“It’s what they expect us to do. What about if we made a pact to kill each other.” Cooper suggested.
“Only if I could slot Edge,” Jarvis replied with a grin.
Cooper went up on one arm and looked at the other man, “Do you really hate him that much?”
“I don’t hate him at all. I just don’t think he likes anybody, particularly me.”
“He’s one of the good guys you know and he rates you very highly.”
“Rubbish, he doesn’t have a kind word for me.”
Cooper shook his head, “You’re very alike you two. Introspective and analytical and you both have to work hard to be good. But you make it look easy. Edge has suffered a great deal of sadness in his life and it has affected him.”
“So what? He’s married with kids and everyone says his wife is gorgeous.”
“And what about you, Guy. You have that nice Welsh girl and there have been plenty more before her. There was that RAF girl in Afghanistan that couldn’t take her eyes off you. She thought the world of you.”
“Yes and Henry got in first when she was home on leave.”
“You missed your chance and you regret it. It was you she wanted. I don’t think you’ll ever be happy, because that perfect person doesn’t exist. But Afarin’s gone, disappeared into thin air. Henry tried to find her, but it was like she didn’t want to be found.”
Cooper had touched a raw nerve, “For God’s sake, this is turning into a Dear Deirdre session!”
He turned away and looked up at the ceiling. He was thinking about two of them leaning against a Hesco Bastion blast wall. The way she had laughed and smiled at him, You’re like a big brother, Jarvis.
“Damn,” he said.
“You may be right.”
They were both asleep by the time the briefing finished and while Morrison wrote his orders, Edge went into the Corimec, picked up one of the reconnaissance photographs and went back out into the compound. He picked a sheltered spot where the dirt was quite thick and went to find some odds and ends from the bins. He put the items on the ground, knelt down and started to model a three-dimensional map on the ground, using the photograph as a reference. He used ammunition boxes for buildings and ration pack containers for the two blocks of flats, one of which was central to the mission. He smoothed the dirt for roads, used a cut-up face veil to represent vegetation and clear cellophane to denote waterways. Finally he placed a strip of cardboard indicating scale and marked magnetic north.
Morrison went into the Corimec and woke Jarvis and Cooper, “Wakey-wakey sleeping beauties. Time for the briefing.”
Out in the compound, Morrison went over the preliminaries, then deferred to Edge who briefed them on the ground, cover, drop-off point and exfiltration route.
“This block of flats is our fire position. Morrison and I will occupy the top floor on this side of the building, where we can observe the road,” He indicated the main road with an improvised pointer, “And these two petrol stations, numbers Papa one and Papa two. Cooper and Jarvis, you are to occupy the floor down from us and identify possible incursion threats from here and here.
“The flats are derelict and the lower floor is boarded up, but there is a fire escape and the fire door on the third floor is unlocked, which is our means of entry. The fire escape is on this side of the building.”
Morrison went over the situation, likely enemy forces and direction of threat then the mission, “Our mission is to eliminate an identified insurgent leader,” He repeated it and that was all they were told. They didn’t need to know the specifics of the target for modular security reasons. Finally it was on the execution of the mission, timings, route out and rendezvous point at the base at Al Amarah.
There were no questions and Morrison checked understanding with a couple of questions. They studied the model from all angles and then they went back inside while Edge destroyed the representation. It was early afternoon and they tried to get as much rest as possible until nightfall.
They were driven from the compound to the flight line, where a Puma helicopter sat with its engines turning. The loadmaster was standing on the starboard side of the aircraft waiting for them. As they walked out to the Puma, the co-pilot glanced at them from the left cockpit door window and Jarvis couldn’t help noticing that she was very pretty. As they lined up to get on board, the Loadmaster asked:
“Smoking or non-smoking?”
Cooper looked at Jarvis, “A fucking comedian. Just what we need.”
The Puma helicopter took off from Basra Air Station and headed north. The aircraft showed no lights, a contrast to the city passing on its starboard side and the gas and oil separation plants in the desert that were lit up like Christmas trees. Once clear of the city, the helicopter swung right and picked up the River Tigris that wound its convoluted path through the desert, southeast towards the Persian Gulf. The Puma was heading in the opposite direction, north-northwest towards Maysan Province.
In the rear of the helicopter, the loadmaster sat behind the right hand door’s 7.62mm GPMG, his lower legs dangling in the warm slipstream. The other four men were sitting in the dull-red canvass seats. They were all armed and wearing clothing that was festooned with strips of hessian and dirty rags. They only had fighting order webbing with extra water bottles, as well as Camelback water carriers, as they may have to operate for a number of days. None carried bergens, but all had personal role radios and three were armed with L119A1/A2 individual weapons. Edge had a long rifle across his knees and cradled in his arms to protect it from the vibration of the aircraft. Parts of the rifle and its telescopic sights were also draped with strips of hessian.
From the photographs, the team had identified their drop-off point, the route in, the secondary rendezvous point, the observation and firing position and most importantly, the safe route out. The helicopter aircrew had also studied the photographs and agreed that the approach and way out of the drop-off point was clear of obstructions. The rules of engagement had been agreed and given to Morrison and Edge by the Secret Service officers at the briefing. Rations and ammunition was issued and the team had relaxed in an air conditioned corimec and waited for nightfall. The RAF Loadmaster didn’t know the names of his passengers. He didn’t know their cap badges and he wouldn’t dream of asking. They were just pax, cargo.
The city of Amarah was ahead of the helicopter, its lights sparkling off the muddy River Tigris. The river was more of a dribble this time of year at the end of the dry season. The rains of March were months away. The Puma’s cockpit was backlit by the eerie glow of the pilots’ night vision goggles (NVGs) and they avoided looking at the brightest-lit parts of the approaching city. The British base at the old airfield of Al Amarah was southwest of the city. The helicopter headed for a southern suburb with low quality housing and ruined blocks of what would have been flats for the oil workers. Its grid pattern showed up harshly in the NVGs and there were few lights in this district.
The Loadmaster turned round and tapped Jarvis on the leg, who would be first out, extending two digits from his fist. Two minutes. The team became alert and started to check their equipment. They didn’t have NVGs, just their night vision. While essential for pilots, NVG’s tend to give the wearer a sense of tunnel vision that overrides all the other, equally vital senses. They would need all of them once they were on the ground. The pilot headed for a pool of darkness on the outskirts of the district and flared to lose speed. By now the loadmaster was flat on his belly, hanging out of the door and calling out the height.
“Twenty metres, fifteen, ten,”
The four passengers were crouched behind him in the door.
“Five, four, three, two, one…” he thrust his arm out, pointing.
The team disappeared into the dust thrown up by the rotor blades. The loadmaster broke a cylume stick and shook it, sweeping the floor of the helicopter to make sure no kit had been left behind.
The Puma’s pilot applied collective and cyclic control and the helicopter pitched forward, accelerated and gained height, before turning left and heading towards the base at Al Amarah. The wheels hadn’t even touched the ground. The team waited immobile for the noise to disappear and the dust to settle, their senses stretched taught. A dog barked in the distance and a child wailed. It was cool out in their element and they waited until they were sure. Then slowly they stood up and made their unhurried, cautious way north towards the distant buildings. Well-spaced and moving in total silence, they were like creatures of the night.
The helicopter was a distant drone when Jarvis and cooper stood up cautiously out of their cover and pushed forward to the block of flats in a protective screen. They had one overriding purpose, to protect the shooter and the spotter. Their objective was the nearer block and they skirted the building and found the fire escape. Jarvis went up first and found the padlocked fire door on the third floor. The padlock wasn’t fastened and he opened the outer door and went into the flats. They were assailed by the stench of corruption and decay and ignoring the filth, they found observation positions, while Morrison and Edge went up to the next floor. There was nothing for it, but to make themselves as comfortable as possible and settle down for however long it would take.
It was their second day in that dangerous, decaying block of flats. The oil workers had left in 1990 and the local inhabitants had at first looted the building, partially burned it down then used it as an open sewer. The building was now in fact such a disgusting mess, that nobody in their right mind would go anywhere near it, even the local kids on their motor scooters.
Edge stared over the top of the rifle’s telescopic sites at the road that ran left to right, left of arc to right. Three-quarter left was a petrol station and small market, range 650 metres. Half-right was another, smaller petrol station, range 950 metres. Traffic on the road was light, the odd lorry, motorbikes and a few ubiquitous, Toyota pick-ups. Edge massaged his tired eyes, his face invisible under the netting head scarf draped over his head. He was partially lying on an old kitchen unit they had dragged into the main sitting room with its large, glassless window and balcony. The table was as far into the room as they could get it and maintain site of the two fuel stations. Morrison sat behind and to the left of Edge, his telescope close to the rifle, but he used a pair of binoculars to scan their arc of fire on the fifth floor. The telescope was to help Edge set-up and take the shot, when the time came.
On the floor below, Jarvis and Cooper kept watch on the back and flanks of the flats, making sure that their escape route was un-interdicted. They were both tired and thoroughly bored. The highlight of their previous day had been watching a bunch of little savages drag a dog behind a motorbike and then stone the exhausted animal to death. The sheer barbarity of the act both saddened and sickened Jarvis.
“That poor animal. The disgusting scum don’t deserve to live and I wish I had Edge’s rifle.”
“Practicing for when they’re married,” Cooper had observed, “The ragheads don’t like dogs. They’re Haram, you know, unclean.”
Jarvis passed the time scanning his arc and he watched a large bird of prey spiralling upwards in the thermals. He thought about his gliding and the thrill of picking up a thermal, hard turning to keep within the column of rising air. Then he thought about the poems of his youth and one of his favourites:
LARS Porsena of Clusium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it,
And named a trysting day,
And bade his messengers ride forth,
East and west and south and north,
To summon his array.
Cooper was his Spurius Lartius; a Ramnian proud to stand on his right hand. But that made Edge his strong Herminius; of Titian blood was he:
“I will abide on thy left side, and keep the bridge with thee.
And Edge was left-handed. He knew that Edge was a man to be trusted in a firefight. He would step over Guy’s or any of their prone bodies and defend them with his life. He was just a difficult man to like.
And the for light relief, the poem that caused him endless mirth, not because of the subject but the language:
So the train mov’d slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
Jarvis grinned at the melodramatic phrases of the poem and then his thoughts turned to a personal favourite, women. They were an endless source of delight, fascination and frustration to him, the endless enigma of the female gender. He thought of women past and present, not dwelling on Bluma. He thought of Deja and her wonderful lack of inhibition, as well as the tiny mole on her breast. He thought about the RAF Nurse, Penny, her wonderful, full breasts and the sheer incongruity of joyful lovemaking in an African hotel in the middle of a war. And he thought long and hard about Hafwen, her blonde hair on the pillow and how she would groan deeply at her climax then cry and the tiny vein in her neck flickering like the inner workings of a watch. And then her face seemed to darken, become someone else, her blue eyes became a dark brown flecked with violet. It was a face with a slightly pouting mouth, testing him. He had missed his chance with the only woman he realised that he had ever really loved and now she had gone, lost in the world of subterfuge and undercover operations. Even Henry couldn’t find her.
And Guy sighed. It was so easy being a man, a single on/off stitch, turn the prop and he was away. With women it was like the starting procedure of Concorde and what was worse, sometimes you had to start the sequence differently. Oh women, how he loved them and was so fascinated by them. And they picked up on this, which was why women liked Guy Jarvis.
Where are you, Afarin?
This made his mood morose and Jarvis thought about killing. In the heat of the African bush he could reconcile that it was his job, but here, now? They were killing in cold blood, or rather Edge was. How did he feel? Edge was a very difficult man to read, sometimes kind and patient, other times cutting, angry and morose. Perhaps Edge didn’t hate him, who could tell?
The light was going and the air was cooling, when Edge spotted a Toyota Land Cruiser pull into the further petrol station. It stopped short of the pumps but no one got out. A minute or so later, a second pick-up drew level with the first. One man got out and appeared to be talking with someone inside the first. Two more men got out of the first vehicle and looked all around the area. One of them spoke into a mobile phone.
“You getting this?” Asked Edge.
“Morrison keyed his personal radio and spoke to the two on the floor below, “Something’s going down. Wake up.”
“Cheeky bastard,” Jarvis muttered as they scanned their arcs.
They heard Edge take the single shot and then…
Cooper and Jarvis moved quickly out into the darkness, again screening the sniper team. They went down the stairwell and out into the evening air. Cooper and Jarvis were already out, covering the flanks. Edge and Morrison moved quickly, their bodies running with sweat inside the ghillie suits. Five-hundred metres out from the flats they heard the first rattle of automatic fire, very fast, a C8 carbine. Cooper and Jarvis were busy.
They were in a covering position when a pick-up drove from the direction of Amarah. It stopped and around six men dismounted in the darkness and began to move to the rear of the flats. Jarvis opened fire on the enemy insurgents with short bursts of fire and then moved position while Cooper opened up. They concentrated on the muzzle flashes from the AK 47s and the return fire dwindled. They moved back, each one covering the other, until they were out of range.
After one-and-a-half kilometres of a fast jog, Morrison and Edge arrived at the main rendezvous point, one of Al Amarah’s crash gates, which was open, the Land Rover waiting with its engine running. Their force protection in the forms of Cooper and Jarvis arrived ten minutes later.
“A pick-up decided to get a bit lairy and have a look at the flats. We had to dissuade them,” Jarvis explained
Edge chugged down bottle after bottle of water. While they were waiting for the helicopter and nature took its natural course. On board the Puma he was doubled up with agony as he tried to get rid of it before the flight back to Basra.
Morrison leaned forward and yelled at Edge, “What the hell’s wrong with you.
Edge’s face was drawn with pain, “I need a piss, Henry. I drank too much water before the flight and my kidneys are having trouble processing it. Now they’ve finally done it.”
Morrison unbuckled and tapped the Loadmaster on the shoulder, “My oppo’s in a bad way. He needs a piss.”
“This isn’t a rugby tour bus. We can’t just pull into a layby,” he yelled in the soldier’s ear.
“He’s got something wrong with his bladder. He has to go.”
The crewman looked at the man who was sweating with pain.
“Either you land and let him have a piss, otherwise it’s all over your deck.”
The Loadie ran through the options. Landing? Out of the question. Sick bag? Recipe for disaster. He delved into his daysack and pulled out a flask. He emptied the tepid coffee out into the slipstream. Most of it went over his glove and up his arm.
“He can piss in that.”
It was a particularly nice flask, the type beloved by aircrew that doubled as a large, insulated mug.
They all turned away while the deed was done. The soldier handed back the flask. The Loadie suspected it would be slightly warm and damp to the touch.
“It’s OK. He can keep it as a souvenir of the time when a Crab didn’t take the piss.”
Morrison laughed and emptied the flask out of the door. Rather irritatingly, none of it blew back in the slipstream. If it hadn’t been dark he may have seen blood in the urine.
Back at Basra Air Station the four troops disembarked from the port side door and headed off at the ten-o-clock. Cooper turned to wave his thanks to the co-pilot and stared into the face of a beautiful young woman, who smiled at him. He darted back to the helicopter door and addressed the Loadie,
“Would you do me a favour please, mate? Tell your lady pilot that she’s a babe, and she’s only got 48 hours before I go. So I’m available for a limited period only.”
The Loadmaster unplugged the intercom lead and unclipped his harness.
“She’d have you for breakfast,” said Giles “Gary” Gilmore.
As he went past the cockpit again, Cooper blew her a kiss. Flying Officer Louise Skelton raised her eyes at him. She had less than thirty-six hours left to live.
Their de-brief was conducted in a compound within a compound at the other side of the former Basra International Airport. SO1 SF was there from the Headquarters J3 Cell as well as two Intelligence Officers from J2. A woman of early middle age sat in the corner. She said nothing but made notes on a clipboard. She was an officer from MI6 and in five years she would compromise both Morrison and Edge in a war crimes investigation, in order to save her own skin and career.
Their interrogators wanted to know the answers to two questions: “Did you positively identify with verification, Mr Muhammad Al Jazari. Can you confirm that Mr Muhammad Al Jazari is deceased?” They asked various supplementary questions such as: “What range did you open fire, did you notice any other significant events and was the firing position sanitised prior to exfiltration?” During the course of the interview, Edge excused himself to go to the lavatory and was relieved to see that his urine was a healthier light straw colour with no obvious threads of blood.
Later, Jarvis overheard Morrison and Edge having an argument in the SF compound. He was too tired to care and fell asleep, still fully clothed. It was over as far as he was concerned, the mission had been completed. If only he knew the effect that operation in Iraq would have on his life, years down the line.
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