The air coming off the mountains was wonderfully cool. Because of its proximity to the equator, the mean temperature was a constant 27 degrees. It was an ideal country to grow crops, many kinds of crops, so why produce the coca plant? Because it is what the drug cartels wanted the farmers to grow. If they wouldn’t. they would be killed and replaced by someone who would. Simple supply and demand. People made a great deal of money. But not the farmers or the pushers on the streets of American cities.
The drug cartels used to run Colombia, but they were pushed south due to the efforts of the government backed by American resources, there were a number still active in the south of the country and across the border in Ecuador. Their produce, the refined cocaine was shipped north on roads or even by helicopter to the north of the country. Fast boats and aircraft moved the narcotics across the Caribbean Sea, using the Dominican Republic and other islands as a staging post. The ultimate prize was the cities of the US and eventually Europe, and their seemingly endless appetite for the white death. This could have been a beautiful and tranquil country, but for the avarice and violence of the drug cartels and their barons.
Edge would learn and the country would suck the life out of him, but for now he had more pressing complications. He watched as Clarita finished talking to the major, who walked across the pan towards Edge and the aircraft. Edge stood up and pulled on his beret. He saluted the Major as he came up to him, the military nicety wasn’t reciprocated.
“Yes sir, I am Staff Sergeant Edge of 22 Special Air Service Regiment, at your service.
“OK, grab your kit and follow me.”
Edge hefted his day sack, rifle and Rivera’s kit and followed the major to a large tent, next to the hangars. Inside was a command post with radios, situational maps and a grinning Rivera. The Major introduced himself.
“OK Edge, I’m Major Martinez and I am the officer commanding this motley crew of combined Green Berets and Colombian Counter-Terrorism Special Forces Group – Alpha. I want to be honest with you, Edge. We don’t want or need you to provide jungle warfare expertise, as we have plenty of experience, fighting down in the cuds. We really don’t need you offering “advice” when none is needed.”
Edge had expected this, “Major Martinez, you may be grabbing the wrong end of the stick, if I may be so presumptuous. I am not here to teach you anything. I am here to learn. The last time I was in the jungle was Belize, training for selection. While I appreciate you feel that I’ve been foisted upon you, I just go where they send me.” He dumped Rivera’s kit on her lap. She looked at him with a flinty expression while he smiled sweetly at her.
“Nevertheless, I don’t want to serve with a man who has a propensity for violence.”
“What did they tell you, sir?”
“That you assaulted a SEAL who was commanding your multiple, causing him actual bodily harm, I believe that is the legal term in your country.”
“I see. Did they tell you why?”
“That you were insubordinate and tried to undermine him.”
“OK Major. Let me tell you what actually happened. The gentleman in question, although gentleman is rather stretching it, is an Irish American, whatever the hell one of those is. Is Ms Rivera Puerto Rican American? No, she is an American who was born in Puerto Rico. I doubt the “gentleman” in question has ever been to Ireland, but I digress.
“He showed a visceral hatred for the British and me in particular from day one. Our mission was to secure the exterior of an Afghan compound with the SEALs, while our troopers stormed inside the complex to rescue two hostages being held by the Taliban. We were ambushed from the front which we cleared until the SEALS were engaged by enfilading fire from the right. While we manoeuvred to outflank the ambush, this idiot fired down his own gun line and killed a fellow SEAL with a shot in the head.
“Back at the main operating base we had a discussion about what had happened. I told the “gentleman” that he had killed one of his own men and I wouldn’t follow him to a petting zoo. He seemed to take umbrage with this and drew a knife on me. I am averse to being stabbed by an incompetent fool, so I dissuaded him.
“He was unconscious for twenty-four hours, had a broken nose, double vision and lost his two front teeth.”
“Oh dear,” said Edge.
“I can’t have a violent psychopath in my outfit and I would…”
“If any of your men pull a knife on me, I will fucking kill them…sir. Please excuse my language, Ma’am. Now if you don’t want me, I can piss off back to Bogota and get on the next flight home. Your choice, Major.”
There was silence in the tent apart from a gentle breeze ruffling the fabric of the roof. Edge and the Major maintained eye contact and Rivera could only be a participant in this clash of machismo. Boys could be so silly, she concluded.
“I see your personal weapon is a Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifle.”
“The shortened KA4 version.”
“That must have quite a kick with the short barrel. We use the M17 SCAR.”
“Same 7.62 mm ammunition, Major.”
“OK, Edge, what are your specialities?”
“Sniper and combat medic.”
“We don’t have much call for sniping in the close-in war we’re fighting in the jungles. Can you do hearts and minds?”
“I can treat women and kids if I have the right gear.”
“OK, we’ll find you a medical bergen. You can pillage our dispensary and sick bay for medical items. How’s your Spanish?”
“Improving slowly,” Edge said honestly.
“You’ll need to get up to speed with the language as quickly as you can. One more thing, your fatigues are great for a stroll along the Appalachian Way, not so great for the cuds. I’ll ask the QM to get you a set of tiger stripe fatigues. You should find a spare cot in the NCOs tent, third one down behind this one.”
“And a hat please, Major. Ms Rivera has already pilfered my gear. Although it rather suits her.”
She scowled at him, which made her nose turn up in an appealing way.
“No need to thank me, Ms Rivera. Would you like me to find you a bed next to me?”
“I’d rather run naked through poison ivy,” she told him, “I will be staying in the airport hotel until I fly back to Bogota tomorrow, on the plane we came down on.”
The Major followed the exchange with a bemused expression, “Ok, once you’re settled in, meet me back in here for a briefing.”
They watched Edge leave and then the Major looked at the woman.
“You two seem to have hit it off.”
“He’s an asshole,” Rivera said quietly.
“He’s flirting with you. What’s he like?”
Rivera thought about it, “Beneath that easy exterior, he is a violent and dangerous man.”
“What happened to his face?”
“A spot of police violence when he was in Germany. I expect he fully deserved it, but he said the German cop won’t walk without a stick again.”
“Do you know he was awarded the Military Cross?”
“What’s the Military Cross? Asked Rivera.
“The Military Cross is an operational gallantry award given to all ranks of the services in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land. At least that’s what the internet told me when I looked it up. It equates to our Distinguished Service Cross.”
“Where and what was he awarded it for?”
“For an operation in Kosovo. There was a gun battle with Moslem insurgents and he was severely wounded.”
“He’s still an asshole.” Rivera said, but it made her think.
“Right, now down to business,” Martinez said purposefully, “What do you have for us?”
She went in her day sack, pulled out a laptop and fired it up. She opened a PowerPoint file with the CIA crest and logo on the slides.
“We’ve identified an area of notable FARC activity.”
“I thought you may have done. No surprise there,” Martinez said ironically.
She pointed at the situational map hanging from the frame of the tent, “We have reports of FARC activity in the Cauca department. Langley would like you to do a sweep and see what you find.”
“Clarita, that’s the area where that European company is doing onshore oil exploration.”
“That’s probably why Langley wants you to take a look, make sure everyone is behaving themselves.”
“Anywhere else?” the Major asked.
“The Putumayo River crossings. Make sure the FARC are not setting up near the border.”
“OK, you want me to do this as well as my directives from the DEA.”
“We’re all on the same side, Thiago. We want the same things.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” Martinez said heavily, “What are your plans?”
“I’ll be staying with the pilot in the airport hotel this evening and then fly back to Bogota early tomorrow. I’ll be back in less than a week and you can give me an update.”
“Any news on your Boss?”
She looked down sadly, “I don’t think he’s coming back, Thiago. He has advanced visceral leishmaniasis. The Agency won’t replace him as long as he’s sick. I think the only way I’ll get a new head of department is if he dies.”
“What about the head of station?”
“He offers support when he can, but he has other issues of his own.”
Martinez put a fatherly hand on her shoulder, “We’ll give you whatever help we can.”
“Thank you, Thiago. I appreciate that.”
He could tell she was close to tears. Whether because she was being overwhelmed by her job or she missed her boss. Despite offering her empathy, there was very little he could do.
“She smiled, “I’ll be OK. Just keep your eyes on Edge. There is something of the darkness about him. Can I borrow a Humvee please?”
“Sure. May catch you tomorrow if you’re not too early.
Edge made his way to the third tent down and put his sleeping bag on a cot. There were three men in the tent, two asleep and one reading a graphic novel. He looked up as Edge opened the tent fly and watched him dump off his kit and body armour on the cot bed.
“You the SAS guy?”
Edge nodded and went over to him and held out his hand, “Mark Edge, but plain old Edge if you would prefer.”
The Green Beret shook his hand, “I’m Wilson. Want a Haribo?”
“No thanks, I don’t want to spoil my dinner.”
They both grinned and another man pushed into the tent. He was carrying a set of camouflage fatigues and a bergen.
“Your kit, Mr Edge. You can go into the dispensary and take whatever you need. I also brought you a parang for clearing the jungle and a thousand and one other uses.”
Edge changed into the tiger stripe camouflage clothing, although the trousers were slightly too long. He put the floppy hat on his cot and pulled on his beret.
“So that’s the winged dagger,” Wilson said looking at his beret, “Why is it the colour of sand?”
“Because the Regiment was formed in the North African desert, in World War Two. Then it was the maroon of the airborne forces, deeply unpopular until it reverted back to sand.”
“We’ve only been knocking around since 1952,” Wilson told him, “What are the wings on your sleeve of your jacket?”
“Freefall parachutist, HALO, HAHO.”
“Have you ever dropped in anger?”
Edge nodded, “Africa 2006. Somalia.”
“Hostage rescue,” Edge recalled.
“Not helicoptered in?”
“Too noisy. We didn’t want to wake the Fuzzies. We rather spoiled their evening and were extracted by helicopter.”
“I had a girlfriend like that. Then I married her. Now the only screaming and moaning she does is when I leave my stuff lying around.”
Edge smiled and thought of Moira. It was a wistful smile, tinged with sadness and longing, “I’ll talk to you later. I think Major Martinez wants to give me the heads-up.”
“He’s a good sort, but he hates it here.”
“Why? Edge asked.
“Too close to home. He’s descended from Mexican immigrants.”
Edge nodded thoughtfully and grabbed his rifle. Back inside the command tent, Martinez was talking with a lieutenant. They both looked at Edge as he walked in.
“Is this a good time, sir?”
“Come in Edge. This is Lieutenant Collins, my two IC.”
“OK Larry, just make sure there are crew and a Huey is fully fuelled for tomorrow morning.”
“Will do, Sir.” On his way out of the tent he smiled at Edge. We’ll talk tomorrow, Edge. Good to have you on board.”
As he left, he closed the tent flap denoting “do not enter.”
“Grab a coffee, Edge.”
The Major stared at this stranger in their midst, “Why doesn’t your rifle have a sling? I can get you one.”
“Because a slung rifle isn’t in the operators’ hands. Those few precious moments taken to unsling the weapon are the difference between life and death.”
“OK, good point. How are your duds?”
“Fatigues. They look fine to me.”
The legs are a bit long. Next time I see her I’ll ask Ms Rivera to take them up for me.”
“Good luck with that, if you want to hang on to your balls. Why do you tweak her tail, Edge?”
“Because she is a spook, she goes out of her way to wind me up and she’s very cute. Where is she, by the way?”
“She’s gone to her hotel in one of our Humvees.”
“Oh,” Edge said, “Could she reach the pedals?”
Major Martinez looked at him and shook his head. He turned to look at a situational map of the country.
“Colombia is a blighted and unhappy country. I’m sure you’ve been reading up on the modern history of Colombia, as well as learning Spanish, but let me give you the perspective from us here on the ground. I have under my command a very understrength battalion of around one hundred men. The Colombians have fielded just over one hundred Urban Counter-Terrorism Special Forces Group – Alpha, who are now training up for jungle warfare. They are under my OPCON but not OPCCOM, which remains with the Colombian government. You have no doubt been studying the FARC forces. They are nowhere as strong as they were ten to twenty years ago. But they have adapted their tactics and remain a formidable insurgency force
“The largest concentrations of FARC guerrillas are located in the south-eastern parts of Colombia’s 190,000 square miles of jungle and in the plains at the base of the Andean mountains, which is why we’re here. However, the FARC lost control of much of their territory, especially in urban areas, forcing them to relocate to remote areas in the jungle and the mountains.
“Relations between the FARC and local the population vary greatly depending on the history and specific characteristics of each region. In rural areas where the guerrillas have maintained a continuous presence for several decades, there are often organic links between the FARC and peasant communities. Such ties include shared generational membership and historical struggles dating back to the period of violence”
Martinez pointed to the map, “These areas have traditionally been located in the departments of Caquetá, Meta, Guaviare and Putumayo, and – to a lesser extent – portions of Huila, Tolima and Nariño. Within remote locations under FARC control and where the national government is generally absent, the group can function as a revolutionary vanguard and institutes its de facto rule of law by carrying out activities that aim to combat corruption and reduce small-scale crime.
“The FARC had also been able to provide limited social services in these regions, such as health care and education, including building minor infrastructure works in the form of rural roads. Peasants who have grown up in areas under historical FARC control may become accustomed to accepting them as the local authority. The guerrillas also attempt to keep the peace between peasants and drug traffickers in addition to regulating other aspects of daily life and economics. They gain a lot of income from taxing the production and movement of Cocaine and as long as they don’t push it too far, the drug cartels are happy to let them. It’s a quid-pro-quo relationship. The FARC police the supply routes, for their cut.
“There is a difference of opinion between the Drug Enforcement Agency, the military and the CIA about the conduct of operations in Bolivia. The military, my bosses think the main effort should be the interdiction of supplies of narcotics and the elimination of the cartels. They used to operate freely in Colombia in the heydays of Pablo Escobar, but while the means of growing and refining the cocaine remain in the jungles of Colombia, the cartels mainly operate from Ecuador.
“The pipelines for the transport of drugs mainly takes place on the Andean roads or more so now, by air. The cartels now have access to the Pacific and fast boats to move the drugs from the north of the country to Mexico or through the Caribbean, straight into American cities. But that’s a problem for Colombian navy and the DEA. My headache is the vast areas of jungle I have to cover with limited resources and manpower. At least all the helicopters are serviceable.
“Tomorrow, I would like you to go out with Lieutenant Collins and he’ll give you a guided tour of our AOR west of the Andes. You’ll be taking eight Colombian Alpha boys with you for protection. I’ve been asked to have a snoop of the ground around Tangaria, which is here on the map. A remote area, well away from the main roads that follow the Andean main routes. Do you have any questions for me, Edge?”
“Not at the moment, sir, but I’m sure I’ll think of some.”
“OK. Have you collected your medical kit?”
“Not yet. That was my next port of call.”
“See you tomorrow at 07:30.”
Edge thanked him and made his way to the medical treatment facility. Inside the tent the medical officer was lancing a boil on a Green Beret’s buttock.”
“Oh, I’m sorry sir. I’m Staff Sergeant Edge. I was sent by the Major to get some medical kit for this bergen.”
“It’s OK. I’m sure Corporal Morris doesn’t mind someone seeing his ass, do you, Morris?”
“Not unless he’s a faggot. You never can tell with the Brits.”
“Get whatever you need,” the doctor told him, “Just make an inventory and the NSNs for resupply.”
“Doc. Everybody calls me Doc.”
Edge went into the dispensary and opened the medical bergen. He took the usual supply of cannulas, giving sets and two litres of fluids as well as morphine, gudael airways and chest seals, plus dressings and blood coagulant, carefully noting everything for resupply. When he got out, the doctor was examining a kidney bowl containing a large amount of puss and blood. The soldier on the treatment couch had a large, bloody hole in his left buttock.
“Well Edge, what would you do for Mr Morris now?”
“Pack it, sir… Doc. Daily obs and check his temperature. Perhaps a course of amoxicillin?”
“Well, carry on.”
“Doc, I don’t want a Limey messing with my ass!”
“I’m sorry, Morris. This will hurt, a lot!.”
Edge cleaned the crater with warm saline and gently packed it with gauze, then applied a waterproof dressing.”
“Come back tomorrow morning for cleaning and to change the dressing. Better ask your bum-chum to go easy with you tonight.”
“You Limey prick!”
“All part of the service,” Edge said to him and handed the medical officer his requisition sheet.
The doctor scanned the items, “You going into competition, Mr Edge?”
“No doc, but they won’t give me a sniper rifle to play with.”
Back in the accommodation tent, Edge filled and secured his water bottle to the side of the medical bergen. Then he discreetly moved Mr Skippy, a small, toy koala bear from his Smock to the cargo pocket of his new tiger striped fatigues. He taped the parang to the left strap of the bergen, blade uppermost. There were more American troops in the accommodation tent now and a few said hi, other Green Berets watching him with curiosity and others making a point of ignoring him.
Edge went outside, found a quiet spot and slowly smoked a cigarette, watching the sun setting over the Andean foothills to the west. This close to the equator there was little in the way of dusk and the birds went quiet. He heard someone approach and sit awkwardly next to him.
“I like your beret, Edge.”
“Hello, Morris. How’s the arse?”
“Sore. I keep getting the fuckin things.”
“Infected in-growing hair follicles probably. It’s difficult here in the tropics, but keep the area clean and dry from sweat. Take as many showers a day as you can.”
“Why are you here, Edge?”
“To brush up on jungle warfare training. My training.”
“I see. Well nice to have you on board. Sorry for calling you a Limey Prick.”
“Thanks, Morris. Don’t worry about it. I’d be pretty miffed if some total stranger started poking my arse.”
© Blown Periphery 2021