Afarin Khan looked at herself in the mirror and sure enough, an old lady stared back at her. She picked at her hair and felt her joints that told her she was getting old. But then again, she had body dysmorphic disorder, something Jean-Claude had identified and almost coached her out of. But Jean-Claude was no longer around to love and nurture her, he was dust and macerated bones on a grave plot in Cambridge. But sometimes she felt him close by when she was in extremis, and it was strangely comforting feeling.
The reality was Afarin was indeed older, late thirties, but everyone else saw a strikingly beautiful woman who had years of love left to give. There had been no one since Jean-Claude of whom she thought his manifestation was a trick of her mind, skewed by grief. She never saw him again, but religiously wore the St Michael pendent round her neck and between her breasts, but how she longed for someone to play with them.
After hearing of his death, the first thing she did was rescind her PVR and went for an issue of new equipment.
“I thought you were leaving the Mob, Sergeant Khan,” her company commander had said to her.
“The job fell through, sir, so here I am, like a coiled spring.”
He was very surprised. Afarin Khan had been in the SRR for around twelve years, far longer than any other operatives had served. He knew that she had lost a SIS officer who had been very dear to her, and he felt the sadness she carried around with her. But she was good at her job and well respected and if she wanted to carry on, that was up to her. And she was beautiful, her company commander had noticed, beautiful with an air of melancholy.
Within three weeks she was at the US base at Bagram in Afghanistan. Her job was to interrogate Taliban or suspected ISIL fighters, before the Americans got to use their bestial methods on them. She was kind and patient to these demoralised and frightened fighters, probably because she had been tortured herself. She got more out of them than all the beatings, waterboarding and electric shocks the CIA interrogators loved.
One afternoon she watched some Blades readying two fast patrol vehicles, loading ammunition, food and water. One of them noticed her looking at them and called out.
“Going our way love?”
She smiled and waved then made her way to the POW compound. Suddenly, she cried out as violent cramps in her lower abdomen floored her and blood spattered on the ground. She barely made it to the ablutions and in a cubicle, cried out with pain. The cramps went on and on and she was sick. Finally, it stopped and she tried to clean herself up. The pan was full of blood clots and a purple foetus, tiny but recognisable as a human, its dead, little arms up at its face.
“Oh, God. I’m so sorry, dumped in a toilet like rubbish.”
Holding her stomach, she made her slow, painful way to the medical facility. An American helicopter pilot went to her aid and drover her to the medical centre. A member of nursing staff spotted her as well as the blood and went to help her in.
“What happened, honey?
“Miscarriage. I didn’t even know I was pregnant.”
She was admitted to the holding ward, where the doctor visited her, “We will need to make sure all the placenta is released and then it’s an aeromed flight home for you.”
He placed a hand gently on her head, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” And the tears came.
Within two nights she was on a flight to Ramstein. On the aircraft she was still weeping for her loss and the loss of Jean Claude’s legacy. The death of a human life she had been carrying, was hard to bear. She had lost everything: her future husband, hope and the rare chance of happiness. She had nothing and death was her onrly release.
Oh John-Claude, I’m so sorry.
She did another operation under MoD control, to Malaysia, with the Sultan of Brunei’s armed forces. She was accompanied by an undercover soldier from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces and their remit was to find out where the Muslim insurgents were based. They tacked known leaders to Miri on the northern coast of Borneo, a holiday destination for Westerners and were involved in a grenade and automatic rifle attack in the Kenyalang Suite. They killed around ten insurgents, but Afarin took enormous risks. She was hit in the leg, fortunately by a fragment of disintegrating bullet and her partner drove her across the border to the Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital in Brunei. All the time he berated her for her reckless disregard of her life, but Afrin was in an almost catatonic state. She was dying by degrees.
She lost a lot of blood, but they were able to save her leg and its function. It took her a long time to rehabilitate and be fit for duty. During this period of recuperation, she worked as the Colonel’s PS, where she gained a great deal of knowledge about Special Forces operations and he was very kind to her, as though he knew her heartbreak, which he did.
The second operation was a joint MoD/MI6 Operation to Iraq, to gauge the extent coalition air strikes and Special Forces had pushed ISIS back. She was operating on her own and unsupported but spent some time with the Peshmerga of the Kurds. She learned their ways of warfare and their language and found the Iraqi army and American air power had pushed them out of Mosul, which they had turned into a hell hole. She got lifts as far as Ar Raqqah but didn’t dare to go into the city, as the Americans were pounding ISIS positions from the air and with artillery.
She had travelled a long way in two huge countries, unsupported but she ran into trouble on the outskirts of Khatuniyah, al-Hasakah. Her kindly lift had dropped her off at a truck stop because he was heading back to Al-Hawl. While she waited at the truck stop a pickup with two men stopped and the passenger asked her directions to Rabia. She tried to explain but he asked her to show him on the map. As soon as she approached the cab, he grabbed her and tried to pull her inside. This Afarin had become very hard, very ruthless, and very strong. She broke his grip by twisting her wrist against his thumbs and reached under her chador for her Glock. The passenger was getting out with long knife, the swelling in the front of his trousers indicating their motive. She shot him twice in the centre of mass and put her gun through the passenger door and killed the driver who was frantically gunning the engine and trying to engage drive. The road was clear in each direction, so she dragged the bodies into a drainage ditch and covered them with rubbish. She put a round in each of their heads to be on the safe side. She felt strangely euphoric.
Was that really necessary, Afarin? Said a voice in her head.
Yes Jean-Claude, it was and what’s more, I enjoyed it.
Don’t let this dehumanise you. It corrodes the soul.
She danced a little jig on the road because now she had transport, checked the fuel, and headed off to the east. She refuelled at Rabia, skirted the outskirts of Mosul, and headed north to the Turkish border. She headed east, waited until dark then dodging the Turkish patrols, crossed the border on foot, fifteen kilometres east of the Ibrahim Khalil Border Crossing. It was a long walk to Silopi, where she used a public phone to call the British Consul General, Istanbul.
She checked in at a hotel and waited. It was lovely to get a shower after two months hard routine. The next day an embassy car picked her up. Took her to Ankara and booked flights for her to London and gave her money to buy new clothes. Twenty-four hours later she was in London, being met by Julian from MI6 and a member of the Directorate Special Forces. She was taken to a safe house and debriefed for two days. On the evening of the first day once the Army had gone, Julian took her hand and kissed it, an oddly old-fashioned thing. He smiled sadly at her.
“The last time I saw you, you had been hammered in Libya. You are so brave. Why didn’t you come to Jean-Claude’s funeral?”
“I’m sorry, Julian, but I would have been too upset. He was everything to me and we were to get married. I’m afraid that I would have been the distraction.”
“I understand. Eva had to leave, totally overcome, but we did him proud. Are you back in business?”
“I reckon I’ve got one or two left in me,” she told him.
“Please consider retiring. You have done more than your fair share.”
“To do what, with who? This is all I have… Now”
“I’m sorry that we must go over old ground with you, but it will be finished tomorrow, and you can go home. God bless you, Afarin.”
So, the next day she drove home and looked round her empty little house, “Just me. No one else,” she said to the cat that seemed to have adopted her and occasionally came round for a cuddle and a free meal, “I’m the mad, cat lady.”
She settled into her lonely existence and on one occasion she went to the Remembrance Parade in Swindon. She was overcome with the emotion and left; her eyes gritty with tears. In the late autumn, she got a phone call.
“Afarin? It’s Alan Bartlett. Would you care for one more, this time with a large patrol of SAS? You’ll be going into Iraq and fighting with the Kurds, then probably into Syria. Are you up for it?”
“I’ll have to consult my diary, let’s see… Nope, nothing planned.”
“There’s a briefing at PJHQ on next Tuesday. You’ll meet the patrol leader and get an idea of what’s planned.”
“Unless Jean-Claude comes back…”
Bartlett screwed his eyes shot.
“I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say. I still think he’s going to turn up in that gunmetal BMW. I’ll be there if I can find the bloody place.”
The briefing was held above ground and when she was shown into the soundproof room, Alan Bartlett hugged her warmly, “Afarin it’s good to see you and I’m so desperately sorry. You lost a future husband, and I lost my best officer. He truly was a decent and kind man.”
Afarin’s eyes began to water, and he gave her a clean handkerchief.
“There’s nothing that I can do or say, Alan. I lost the best part of me.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I have nothing else, just loneliness and a little cat who pops round to see me and of course, get fed.”
And then it was Bartlett whose eyes were watering. He got Afarin a cup of tea and she looked round the room. There were a couple of men from the Directorate Special Forces and the unprepossessing and blustering Defence Secretary arrived within a few minutes with two flunkies. There was a major, youngish, and extremely good looking. He looked at Afarin and smiled, as though he was appraising her.
The briefing got underway led by Bartlett and a lieutenant colonel from the Directorate SF. Bartlett spoke first.
“Gentleman, lady the following presentation is Secret UK Eyes Only. Even the title is classified as secret. No notes are to be taken. You can see for yourself this operation has been given the name of Erudite.”
The slide came up with the annotation Op Erudite, Top Secret UK Eyes Only. The first slide showed a map of Syria. As Bartlett began to brief the plan, symbols appeared.
“In October 2014, a GR4 aircraft was lost while conducting bombing missions against ISIS units in Iraq. The official line was the aircraft was lost at sea; however, we know it was shot down in Syria and a CSAR mission was launched from Turkey to recover the aircrew. The mission was a disaster, and we lost a helicopter, and the operation was aborted. No trace of the aircrew has even been found.”
The lieutenant colonel took over at this point: “Major Halward, your mission is to move from Turkey into Northern Iraq and offer support to Peshmerga forces fighting ISIS. You will then move from Iraq into Syria if Ms Khan finds any promising leads. You will interrogate any prisoners for onward move to Turkey.”
There followed a lot of information on callsigns, resupply and routes and Afarin was listening without really hearing. After a question-and-answer session, where the Defence Secretary asked questions in an attempt to look intelligent, the military and politicians left.
“And then there were two,” Bartlett said to her, “Now I’ll tell you your mission. Nobody else knows and I’d keep it that way. There are large numbers of British-born Jihadis in Syria. If you can track them down and it’s safe to do so, you are to kill them. Your old pal Daffi Hashmi is believed to be in Syria. If you get him, interrogate him within an inch of his worthless life and then… You get the idea. See how he likes dancing around with a heavy-duty battery attached to his gonads. He was prepared to do it to you.
“But above all, Afarin, take care and come back safely. I think Major Halward would like to speak with you at the coffee bar downstairs.”
“He is rather nice looking, Alan.”
“You’re old enough to make a judgement on hanky-panky, just don’t let it interfere with this, your primary directive. Good luck and God go with you, Afarin.”
Downstairs she found him in the coffee lounge.
“Let me get you one.” He brought back two coffees, and they sat down, “It’s Afarin, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Afarin Khan, Major Halward.”
“Please feel free to address me as Paul when the troops are not about. You’re SSR aren’t you?”
“Will you bring a personal weapon?”
“My usual, C8 carbine, Glock 19 and a Fairburn Sykes fighting knife.”
“Bloody hell! I hope to be underway in five days or sooner,” he told her.
“I just need to go to Hereford, pick up my kit and head for Brize for a flight to Diyarbakır. From there I’ll take whatever I can get to Hakkâri.”
“Do you have any family or husband here…”
“No. I had someone once, but he was killed, so now I’m the mad cat woman. I’m all yours.”
“Err… See you in Hakkâri.”
She drove back to her house and prepared it for an extended period of being empty. Sure, enough the little black and white cat was waiting for her. She fed it and gave it a last, long cuddle for a while.
“Be good Muezza.”
She shooed the cat out and it hissed at her, “Next year, Muezza, your proper mum will look after you till then. Don’t kill birds and be careful of the road.”
She left her little house and drove north with a sense of sadness. She wouldn’t see it again for nearly a year.
The two Supacat patrol vehicles were parked on the edge of the airstrip, the troopers awaiting expectantly.
“I bet she’s a double-bagger.”
“Frank still would.”
From the north-west there was the unmistakable sound of an Osprey Tiltrotor aircraft. The very strange looking aircraft mad a slow transit of the airstrip and landed in a blizzard of dust.
“Ooooh,” said one of the troopers.
“Ahhhh,” said another one as it lifted and headed back to the north-west, “Well at least it didn’t crash.”
Some of them began to clap spontaneously and sarcastically. They hated flying on the Osprey. And then like a scene from the film Lawrence of Arabia, out of the glimmering mirages, whirling clouds of sand and dust a single figure walked towards them, shimmering in the afternoon heat. As the figure got closer, they saw it was a woman wearing a loose hijab, a bergen on her back, carrying a C8 carbine. Halward walked out to meet her. The troops were very intrigued. “Who said she would be a double-bagger? She is a babe if you like them dusky.”
“Ms Khan, I presume.” Halward said to her.
“My codename is Samyaza for the duration of this operation, Major.”
“As you wish. Come and meet the troops, stow your bergen on the side of the wagon and mount up. Men, although I use the term loosely, this is Samyaza, our interpreter.”
A sergeant sitting on the side of a Supacat looked at them aghast, “Samyaza? What kind of name is that? No, no, no! The way you’re hefting that carbine and wearing an automatic, forces me to believe that you’re a mean arse. I can’t go around saying “morning Samyaza.” Would you like sugar in your tea, Samyaza? You shall henceforth be known as Ripley, she of the film Aliens fame.”
He did a very good Private Hudson impression from the film. He had the hip-thrusting swagger off to perfection and it was his party piece.
I’m ready, man. Check it out! I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do not want to fuck with me. Check it out! Hey, Ripley, don’t worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you! Check it out. Independently targeting particle-beam phalanx. WHAP! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase plasma pulse carbines, RPGs. We got sonic, electronic ball-breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, sharp sticks…
And Ripley it was. She hung her bergen on the side of the vehicle, unclipped the day sack which was a side pouch and asked where the latrines were.
“I’ll come with you, just in case one of the Yanks disturbs you,” the sergeant said, “I’m Ellis, otherwise known as “Ruth. Number ones or twos?”
“None of your dammed business.” She said and they traipsed to the nearest latrine. Back at the command Supacat she hefted herself up.
“As you can see, space is a bit of a premium, with all these jerrycans, water, kit, and food. The six-wheeler has more room but it’s carrying more kit,” a corporal told her, “My name is Dr Shipman “Shippers” or Corporal Roberts, by the way. I am one of the patrol’s medics, the other one is Dr Mengele, Corporal Jamie Cairns. We ripped out the seats because they were a bit too health and safety and got in the way for carrying kit. That’s your space, behind the Major. I’m next to you, you lucky girl and Ruth lies cross the way at the back. When he’s not posing with the fifty-cal. Don’t forget to prod him with your feet. “Frank” Carson is the driver and he’s crap.”
“I heard that, “Shippers,” said Carson. “The main part of the mission is to find the patients you killed.”
Afarin settled down on the nets and the two patrol vehicles headed south. She stared out at the snow dusted mountains ahead, pulled the hijab over her hair and smiled to herself. She looked up and the Sergeant on the fifty-cal was staring at her. She smiled and he looked away shyly.
“What’s your real name, Private Hudson? She asked him.
“Err it’s James Ellis.”
She nodded thoughtfully and closed her eyes.
He risked another look at her. She was surrounded by an aura of sadness and he wondered why. He wanted to find out more about this woman because she was lovely.
Sixteen years gone in the blink of an eye. No longer the little girl from the RAF, now she was a hardened and ruthless operator with a sanction to kill British Jihadists. She sniffed the aroma of diesel and gun oil, and it made her feel secure. Once again, she was surrounded by Blades, tough, sweary and kind men. They would become her brothers, big brothers and she felt safe. She was home…
And I’m afraid that’s it. I have run out of ideas in the War Crimes saga. But you can read the sequel to this in Nemesis in the Authors’ Pages from Page 7. It portrays a much more ruthless Afrin, who has been given the name “Ripley” by the troopers.
Of course, Afarin Khan who was treated so badly by Henry Morrison and cruelly found love in Jean-Claude, to have it snatched away. She was ignorant to the various levels of personal emotion, but she was learning. Once she only expressed feelings in black or white – angry or happy and didn’t know how to differentiate the emotional shades of grey in between. And yet, she was the glue that bound them all together.
Some have observed that I’ve been rather cruel to Afarin. I have and have thought long and hard about this. She is a product of a Muslim family. Her mother and elder sister tried to take her to Afghanistan and marry a much older cousin. Afarin threatened to put a spoon in her underwear to set off the airport security. She was fourteen. Her furious sister told her girls like her have a habit of disappearing to maintain family “honour.” From then on, Afarin carried a knife and was prepared to use it.
Her only escape was joining the Armed Forces and by a convoluted chain of events, ended up as an SRR operative. She operates in a ruthless and dangerous profession and she carries out her dangerous operations to the best of her ability. Afarin is frightened all the time. I didn’t want La Femme Nikita. I wanted her to be a flawed character, despite everything, serving her country that often despises her and truthfully, she does as well.
Goodbye to them all but who knows, I may get another idea after sleepless nights. I hope you enjoyed them and took them as intended, a little bit of escapist fiction on Sunday nights. No hidden messages, nothing more. If you liked them, great. If you didn’t, you can’t win ‘em all. I have more than enough things in my head to make me lose sleep.
If you have any ideas what you would like to read or what would make a good story, feel free to let me know your idea. I really, honestly do enjoy writing. It is rather cathartic.
I would like to thank the kind readers who provided support, both advice and financial support, to enable War Crimes to be published. So kind of you and it gave me hope. Most of all thank you Swiss Bob for posting the articles. Thank you all.
© Blown Periphery 2022