The Colombian Sojourn – Chapter 7

St Juan de Pasto and the Cauca Department, Southern Colombia
Photo by Daniel Stuben. on Unsplash

Edge was chatting with the men of The Urban Counter-Terrorism Special Forces Group – Alpha, otherwise known as AFEUR or AFEAU. They were good soldiers, but more at home in the cities of Colombia. They had virtually eradicated FARC from Bogotá, but now the Americans needed to train them in jungle warfare. The Colombian soldiers the SAS had trained in the 1980s were long gone and for years the battles against the FARC were in the cities.

Edge’s Spanish had improved in leaps and bounds, mainly because the Alpha men laughed at him when he mispronounced words or used them in the wrong context. And he would sit with them and watch their weapons drills and they were interested in his mixture of British and Israeli kit. He also taught a selected few advanced first aid and how to use the medical kit. It was a productive relationship and the Alpha troops grew to trust him. If the Colombians were kindly disposed to Edge, so were the Green Berets, although this relationship involved much, mutual piss-taking. A few went out of their way to avoid him, but Edge reasoned that was their problem.

One late morning two days after finding the destroyed village and the murdered civilians, Edge, unable to face another MRE of beans in chilli sauce, wandered into the supply tent.

“Wotcha, Nguyen.”

“Hi, Edge. How’s it hangin?”

“Big and swinging. I’ve come on the scrounge.”

“You damned Brit Borrowers,” said Nguyen.

“Do you have any hessian, old sandbags or other stuff?”

“Hessian?” Nguyen asked.

“Err, you would probably call it burlap or gunny.”

“Oh, yeah, sure. Our sandbags are a nylon fibre, but the equipment comes wrapped in gunny. How much do you need?”

Edge showed him with his arms apart.

“What’s it for, Edge.”

“To turn me into a bit of jungle. I’ll need string as well, sisal or the equivalent and some green bodge tape.”

He cut a length of the gunny and handed it over, along with a roll of green string.

“What the hell is bodge tape?”

Edge pointed to a roll of green tape and the Green Beret handed it to him.

“Thanks, Nguyen.”

The men off duty watched Edge sitting cross-legged on the dispersal, leaning against the hanger. His equipment and weapon were laid out in front of him. He cut the gunny into irregular thickness strips and then got busy. He started with his HK Assault Rifle, wrapping lengths of the material around the stock, butt, barrel and sights, keeping well clear of the magazine housing and the working parts. Fairly soon a small crowd of Alpha gathered round to watch him.

The elasticated loops on the body armour and the Israeli webbing enabled him to tie strips to the equipment and he finished with the jungle hat. He kept the strips longer so that they covered his face and shoulders.

“The idea,” he told his audience, is to break up the outline of the human form. Why are things seen, Ruiz?”

“Shape, Shine, Shadow, Silhouette, Spacing… That’s as far as I can get, Edge,”

“What about Movement, Pattern, Thermal/IR Signature?”

“Yeah, that too.”

Lieutenant Collins came round the corner of the hangar and looked at Edge’s kit, “Nice one, but we have a couple of ghillie suits somewhere. It would have saved you a lot of time.”

“Possibly, Lieutenant, but ghillie suits encumber you. Slow you down. I got shot wearing a ghillie suit.”


“You’ve been doing your homework, Lieutenant. Yes, it was Kosovo. The reason I’m here is because my oppo saved my life, along with the surgical team on the Franklin D Roosevelt.”

“How many mujahedeen did you kill Edge?”

“I lost count after twenty.”

“My God!”

“I don’t enjoy killing people, Lieutenant.”

“It’s the nature of our business, I’m afraid. You just seem to be rather good at it.”

Edge thought about that remark and took himself away to the other side of the hangers. He smoked a thoughtful cigarette, barely registering the aircraft coming and going. The Andes loomed above them, the sky a deep blue and glacially clear.

He thought about the nature of life… And death. His was an abhorrent business, that over the years had become more difficult to justify. You just seem to be rather good at it. He knew he was going to die sooner rather than later. He had become wearied of the life and the killing. What once had thrilled him and he had considered it to be just another op, had become a terrible drudge. He would make a mistake, a momentary lapse of concentration and that would be it. He couldn’t beat the clock for ever. And he felt deep sorrow for his wife and children who would be left behind, albeit well looked after financially, but what would be his legacy? He was rather good at killing, but he should be concentrating more on living.

He ground the cigarette butt under his boot and stood up. He needed to shake off this maudlin mood and get a grip. It would go in the next firefight. It always did, along with the fear.


Lieutenant Collins went into the command tent and Major Martinez and Lieutenant Turner were waiting for him.

“Come in and close the flap.”

Collins complied and the Major handed him a coffee.

“Right, fellers. First things first. What do you make of the empty cases that Edge found?”

“Interesting but nothing. The FARC could have taken an NG 5 from a National Police unit. It doesn’t prove anything,” Lieutenant Turner said and shrugged.

“True, but if it was FARC, why destroy a village and commit mass murder?” Collins was playing devil’s advocate.

“To clear a path to the sea, then they have access to the Pacific. The village could have just been in the way,” said Turner.

“Or rejected an offer they thought they could refuse.” Martinez said looking at the map, “So what do we do about it?”

“What is our remit from the Drug Enforcement Administration, sir?” Collins asked, “The lines seem to get blurred with the CIA poking it’s extremely pretty nose into things.”

“To destroy the means of narcotic supply and onward move to the States.”

“We could always maintain a watch on the other villages in that area. It could be tied up with the narcotics distribution,” Turner suggested.

“Absolutely reasonable given that our CIA representative said: We have reports of FARC activity in the Cauca department. Langley would like you to do a sweep and see what you find. We’re just doing a bigger sweep and make sure everyone is behaving themselves, as per the CIA directive and they don’t need to know our scheme of manoeuvre.”

“What are your plans, sir?” asked Collins, looking at the map.

“Three observation sites near the villages on this river. A mobile reserve further back, say here,” Martinez said pointing to the map, “Within a short helicopter flight of the three out-teams. You’ll need to ensure that four of the chopper crews are fully checked out for night flying. Each of you officers will command an observation team. I’m open to suggestions as to who will head up the third.”

“What about Edge?”

The other officers looked at Collins in surprise.

“Edge? Do you rate him, Collins?”

“I would rate anyone who has been awarded the military cross. There’s just something about him.”

“He was sent here because of a lapse in discipline,” Turner said with the absolute certainty of someone who was totally wrong.

“Not strictly true. He was sent here to learn our jungle warfare skills. The Brits haven’t been involved in full-on jungle fighting since Borneo in the 1970s. He fits in well, not a great I-am from Hereford. He’s been instructing the Alpha boys in battlefield first aid.”

“But he does have a tendency to flare up, Collins. Ms Rivera said to me: Beneath that easy exterior, he is a violent and dangerous man.”

Collins laughed, “That’s because she would like to get inside his pants. She’s besotted with him.”

“God, really?”

“Major, I’m still young enough to remember the signs of sexual attraction and Clarita’s got it bad.”

“Don’t tell him. I don’t want hanky-panky in the company.”

“I think Edge knows where the boundaries are. He’s a professional soldier and he’s too kind to lead her a dance.”

The major looked at the map and came to a decision, “OK, Edge it is then. Prepare me a plan of action and we’ll brief it this afternoon. I want two of our boys with eight-man sections of Alpha. We’ll put Edge’s section down near the coast, where it’s unlikely they will be busy.”


Edge was surprised at this sudden elevation to the command team and said little during the briefing, taking notes. It was a fairly straightforward covert observation exercise, which could involve them being in the field for forty-eight hours. He only chipped in during the questions stage of the briefing.

“Sir, I haven’t been issued with rules of engagement. It’s a legally binding document for us Brits.”

“You can use ours,” Martinez told him.

“With all due respect, sir, your ROEs permit you to slot somebody who looks at you in a funny way.”

“OK, use ours and adapt them for your legal requirements.”

Edge nodded and after the briefing, asked Master Sergeant Wilson to show him his village on Google Earth at maximum resolution. He made a quick tactical map, then went to round up Private Lee, who he appointed as 2IC and radio man as well as his eight Alpha troops. His briefing to them concentrated more on timings, the commander’s intent and service support. He told them they were on a covert observation mission and to expect to be in the field for forty-eight hours, so they were to wear warm and waterproof clothing.”

“Back here for and equipment check at 17:00. Private Lee, you will conduct the check. Any questions?”

Heads were shaken.

“Right, go and get your kit together, Lee, could you stay behind?”

The Colombian troops went away with a great deal of excited chatter. Edge showed Lee the map.

“The village is on the north bank of the river. We will approach on foot, following the river here. See this boundary line to the south?”

Lee nodded.

“We’ll set up in cover along the line. Five metres spacing and I want the SAWS pushed out to the flank, where it can cover the road, bridge and our frontage. Fire on the release of a flare. What are you going to check?”

“Ammunition, water and food plus warm clothes,” Lee told him.

“Spot on. You can also brief approach and positions.”


“Absolutely. I need to do a bit of scrounging and then I’ll see you here at 17:00. Oh, and tell them to bring sealable plastic bags.”

“OK. What for, Edge?”

“For them to piss and if necessary, shit in them, although I would advise they clear their bowels. We leave no trace we were ever there.”

“Sure Sarge Edge. I’ve nothing else planned.”

Edge made his way to the supply tent.

“Hi, Nguyen.”

“Oh God. Hi, Edge.”

“You got any Shamoolis?”

“What the fuck are Shamoolis?”

“Flares you can fire.”

“Next door in the armoury. Wait here. How many?”

“Let’s not be greedy. Four should cut it.”

He returned in a couple of minutes and put four pyrotechnic tubes on the counter. “These shouldn’t be used without adult supervision.”

“You can come with us if you like.”

Nugyen smiled, “Be careful out there, Edge.”

At 17:00 the base had a sense of purpose, aircrews and groundcrews readying the helicopters and the four fire sections lined up. Lee gave a good briefing and Edge was pleased to see they all sported hessian camouflage. He went to tell Major Martinez that his section was ready. His eyes were bright and glinting with adrenalin.

“Thank you, Staff Sergeant Edge. Mount up and radio check once you’re in position.”

“OK Lee, get them on board.”

The rotors were turning when Edge got on board the Huey and showed the pilot where the LZ was on the co-pilot’s map. He spoke in Spanish.

“Put us down east of this village, one thousand metres away. You should be able to land here,” Edge said, indicating the position with a filtered torch and his pencil.

The Hueys took off, Edge’s last. A solitary Green Beret saluted each helicopter as it passed and Edge smiled to himself. RAF aircrew would have been on the receiving end of rude gestures, willingly reciprocated.

It was totally dark by the time the helicopters were over Cauca and most of the troops were on NVGs. Edge didn’t bother with his, preferring his own night vision. The helicopters were making their independent way to their landing zones and he spotter the occasional gleam below from the river. The helicopter slowed and lost height before flaring into land. The troops were off, and moved away before crouching down and the helicopter was up and away. It was extremely loud with the familiar wop-wop of two bladed rotors, that seemed to chop the air. When all was quiet and still, they stood up and followed the river west, Lee on point, Edge next, close to the radio.

It took them around twenty minutes to find the road and the wooden bridge then they worked south, stealthy and well-spaced, until they found the boundary line. It was an old, barbed wire fence, interspersed with bushes and vegetation and Edge settled the troops in.

“Warm clothes with waterproofs ready. Hard routine for two days so get comfortable.”

Next, he sidled in next to Lee and clicked his fingers for the radio handset.

“Delta from Bravo-three, radio check, over.”

“Bravo-three from Delta, OK Over.”

Now all they could do is wait. They had organised shifts of four hours on, four hours off, with everyone awake for the dawn and dusk stand-to. This was Edge’s bread and butter and suited the quiet insularity in him. The number of times he had done a covert intelligence operation, in places like the Border Country of South Armagh. And that awful time they had killed a teenager by mistake. They had been watching an arms cache in the Irish Republic, and a teenage boy was sent in to retrieve something. The blades opened fire. Killing the youngster who had been sent in by the IRA. It was a setup and the Blades paid for it with their reputation. The poor, young boy with his life.

The hours dragged on and Edge took stock of his life. Everything he needed and loved was at home in Devon, in that green valley with the meandering river. But not the exhilaration of soldiering and the intensity that terrified him, but made him feel so alive. He subconsciously felt in his smock pocket for Mr Skippy, knowing he couldn’t do this for ever. The clock was ticking for Mark Edge.

At around 18:00 everybody was stood-to covertly. Edge had been watching a herd (If that what it’s called), of Capybara, on the far end of the open grass, through the sights of his assault rifle. The huge rodents had an endearing quality and he continued to watch them as the sun went down. Suddenly the Capybara burst in all directions and Edge wondered what had made them scatter like that and looked for predators above such as the condor. Nothing. Next, he looked for a large cat such as the jaguar or puma, but there was no sign. Then he closely scrutinised the distant copse of trees and he saw them. Four armed men, well-spaced and immobile, watching the road to the river bridge, probably with a star-scope.

Edge clicked his fingers once and indicated to Lee their direction with his hand flat with a chopping motion, then he held up four fingers. Edge repeated the signal with the Alpha trooper to his left, knowing it would be passed down the line. Lee briefly pulled down his NVGs and saw at least two men in cover. Edge clicked his fingers twice and Lee handed him the radio hand set

“Delta from Bravo-three, message, over.”

“Go ahead, Bravo-three.”

“My location is being dicked. Over.”

“Say again, Bravo-three.

“I am under close surveillance. Four persons, Armed. Over.”

“Err OK, Bravo-three. Do you require assistance? Over.”

“Not yet, Delta.”

“Roger, Bravo-three. Over.”

“Bravo-three, listening. Out.”

Edge handed the handset back to Lee. He doubted they would come tonight, but the waiting game had begun.

During the following day it began to rain, a horrible drizzle that soaked them, just in time for the heavy rain that made sure. Edge was so wet he was tempted just to piss in his trousers, but he knew this could lead to rashes and fungal infections. He made use of his poly bag and tucked it in a pocket of the medical bergen, that contained nothing else. All the medical kit was bagged and held in place inside the bergen with elasticated loops.

There wasn’t even any of Colombia’s exotic wildlife to watch. Just the rain spattering off his jungle hat. He couldn’t face chilli with beef, so he pulled out a length of chorizo sausage and carved a piece off. It was salty but welcome and then he remembered he would have to keep hydrated, which would mean another piss in the bloody bag. He could have been warm at home, tucked up in bed next to Moira, warm and dry, with those wonderful breasts of hers, product of the baby. Those thoughts made him sad and maudlin, so he watched a break in the clouds, praying it would get nearer.

They remained on stand-to that evening, because Edge knew they would come tonight. At 21:00 a sleeping bird was disturbed and flew up out of the distant copse. The Alpha troops were taut like an overtightened violin string. Edge risked a look through his NVGs and picked the men up. They were moving up towards the boundary line and their positions. The faceless men were competent. Four or five would move silently forward, then take cover while the men behind came forward to pass them, advancing fifty or so metres, then going down while the process was repeated. It was impossible to hear them in the rain, but their target was clearly the bridge and the village beyond.

Edge slid two Shamoolis from under his body, where he had been keeping them dry. He had prepped them in the daylight and pointed the first one up to the night sky. He kept the rubber cap on the flare, because it would go straight through the protective cap. They put their heads down to protect their night vision and the Schamooli whooshed out of the tube and illuminated at about three hundred feet under its parachute. The figures were caught in the open and reacted the only way they could. They opened fire on the boundary and any other clump of cover, in a state of total confusion.

It was a fatal mistake. The heavy rounds from the Alphas’ assault rifles were finding targets and the SAWS on their flank was carving chunks through the attacking force. Edge took the radio.

“All call signs from Bravo-three, contact, wait, out”

He fired the second Shamooli, which illuminated a handful of men falling back and firing as they went. As they were maintaining effective fire, the Alpha troopers were firing longer bursts. Their rifles were steaming in the rain and water hissed off ejected round cases. As the flare fizzled out at the end of its winding smoke trail down, Edge checked through his NVGs. There was no movement.

“Check fire, check fire,” Edge yelled, “Maintain stand-to. Watch and shoot, watch and shoot.”
Then he went on the radio.

“Delta from Bravo-three. Attack on my position, ten plus enemy forces, unknown origin.”

“Roger Bravo-three. Do you require assistance?”

“Negative until my call, Delta. Bravo-three listening. Out.”

Their adrenalin levels started to drop and the cold soaked into their bones. And they hunkered down again, waiting for the dawn. There was no movement out there and in the pre-dawn half-light, vultures began arriving and perched in the trees, waiting.

At 06:00 it was light enough to see and Edge told his troops: “Half in all-round defence, half clear up the site, including empty cases”

Edge cautiously went forward into the tall grass to find the bodies and see if there were any survivors. There wasn’t. Blood globules were on the grass and the 7.62 mm rounds had caused terrible injuries to the bodies. He was struck at how well equipped they were. They wore an eclectic selection of camouflage gear, but the weapons, body armour and webbing were all of American origin. Some had NVGs and good quality jungle boots. He began the grisly task of searching the bodies for phones or ID documents, chasing off the vultures who risked coming down for a tasty morsel. There were eight bodies and he put any useful items in an empty and clean piss bag.

One of the dead was a young man, lying on his back. The rain had washed the camouflage off his face and he had a shock of blonde hair and a wispy blonde moustache. There was something incredibly familiar about this young man and as Edge searched the body for intelligence, Edge suddenly knew where he had seen this young man before.

He turned round as a Huey came in, skimming the trees, landing behind them, near the river. Major Martinez and his O-group disembarked and made their way to the boundary line.

“How many?” Martinez asked.


“Who were they?”

“Don’t know yet, Major,” Edge held up the bloody bag with the phones and documents, “But I think I know, or rather knew one of them.”


It stopped raining and the early morning sun came out.

© Blown Periphery 2021