The SEAL team below, where Marine Corps Sergeant Khatera Shinwari hid in her sniper hide, was in danger. The June sun was almost setting in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. Khat made a slow, sweeping turn to the right with her .300 Win Mag rifle along the rocky scree slope. She spotted ten Taliban waiting behind boulders to jump the four-man SEAL team climbing up the nine-thousand-foot slope.
Lips thinning, Khat watched the inevitable. She knew the team was looking for Sattar Khogani, the Hill tribe chieftain who was wreaking hell on earth to the Shinwari tribe. Her tribe. Her blood.
Pulling the satellite phone toward her, she punched in some numbers, waiting for her SEAL handler, Commander Jim Hutton, from J-bad, Jalalabad, to answer.
“Archangel Actual.” Khat spoke quietly, apprising Hutton of the escalating situation. She shot the GPS, giving the coordinates of where the SEALs were at and where the Taliban waited to ambush them. She asked if Apache helos were available.
An A-10 Warthog slumming in the area?
A C-130 ghost ship?
A damned B-52 on race track?
No. All flight assets were tied up with a major engagement to the east, near J-bad.
“What the hell can you give me, Dover?”
Khat was only a Marine Corps staff sergeant, and her handler, a Navy commander, but she didn’t give a damn at this point. Four good men were going to die on that scree slope really soon.
“No joy,” Hutton ground back.
“You’re going to lose four SEALs,” she snapped back in a whisper, watching through her Night Force scope. “Do you want another Operation Redwings?”
She knew that would sting him. Four brave SEALs had walked into a Taliban trap of two hundred. They were completely outmatched and without any type of support because their radio failed, and they couldn’t call for backup help.
It had been one of the major reasons she’d gotten into her black ops activity and become involved. Khat didn’t want any more fine men murdered because a drone wasn’t available, or a satellite, or a friggin’ Apache combat helicopter.
More men had died that night when a hastily assembled QRF, Quick Reaction Force was finally strung together out of J-bad. The MH-47 Chinook had taken an RPG, rocket-propelled grenade, into it, and it had crashed, killing all sixteen on board.
More lives were wasted. She had cried for days after it happened, unable to imagine the tragedy inflicted upon the families involved. None of their husbands, brothers or fathers were coming home.
It can’t happen again. She wouldn’t allow it. Khat knew without a sat phone, radio calls into this area were DOA, dead on arrival. The radio call would never be heard. She wasn’t sure the leader of the patrol had one on him.
“There are no assets available.”
“You said this team is out of Camp Bravo?”
“Affirmative. I’m initiating a QRF from Bagram. But it will take an hour for them to arrive on scene.”
“What about a QRF from Camp Bravo?” Khat wanted to scream at this guy to get off his ass and get involved. Sometimes she wondered why they’d given her Hutton. He was a very conservative black ops handler. She wished she still had Commander Timothy Skelling, but he’d just rotated Stateside. Hutton reminded her of a slug; as if he didn’t know what to do quickly, when pressed.
“I’m calling them, too. They can be on scene, providing they aren’t already engaged elsewhere, in thirty minutes.”
“Roger,” she said, her voice hardening. “Get a call patched through to Delta Platoon and warn them.”Like fucking yesterday.
She felt her rage rising. It always did in situations like this. She didn’t want to lose Americans.
“I’ve sent a call over to Chief Mac McCutcheon of Delta Platoon.”
“I’m waiting five minutes,” Khat growled. “If I don’t see that team stop and hunker down for an incoming call from Bravo, I’m engaging. The least I can do is warn off the SEALs, and they’ll take appropriate action.”
Shifting her scope, she saw more of Khogani’s men sneaking up on the other side of the ridge. There had to be twenty of the enemy in all. Smaller boys with the Taliban group held the reins of the horses far below the slope. Sweat ran down her temples, the heat at this time of day unbearable.
“Archangel, you are not authorized to engage. Repeat. Do not engage. Your duty is to observe only. Over.”
She cursed Hutton in her mind. “Roger, Dover Actual. Out.” She hated Hutton’s heavy, snarling voice. All they did was spar with one another. To hell with him.
Khat wasn’t about to take on thirty or so Taliban with one sniper rifle. But she could fire some shots before the muzzle fire from her rifle was seen by the Taliban. They would be fourteen hundred yard shots, and she set up to take out at least two or three of the hidden tangos. A .300 Win Mag didn’t have a muzzle suppressor. Khat knew she could become instant toast when the sharp-eyed enemy spotted her location.
In the back of her mind as she checked elevation and windage, she knew Hutton would get a QRF up and pronto, if one was available. A quick reaction force would be needed because she knew Khogani’s men would attack these four SEALs. Camp Bravo, a forward operating base, sat about thirty miles from the Af-Pak border, near where she was presently operating.
She knew SEALs carried the fight to the enemy, but sometimes it was wiser to back off and wait another day. Frustration thrummed through Khat.
Settling the rifle butt deeply into her right shoulder, her cheek pressed hard against the fiberglass stock, she placed one of the Taliban in the crosshairs. They were in a rocky stronghold waiting to spring the trap on the unsuspecting SEALs. Khat wished she could contact the team directly. She didn’t have their radio code because it changed daily. And that’s what she’d have to have in order to call that lead SEAL and warn him of the impending ambush.
The SEAL patrol members were all carrying heavily packed rucks and wearing Kevlar vests and helmets, which meant they were going to engage in a direct-action mission. Usually, she saw some patrols with SEALs wearing a black baseball cap, or field hat, their radio mic near their mouth and carrying a light kit, making swift progress toward some objective in the night.
Not this patrol. These guys were armed to the teeth. The lead SEAL’s H-gear, a harness that held fifteen pockets worn around the man’s chest and waist, held a maximum load of mags, magazines, of M-4 rifles ammo where he could easily reach it. These guys knew they were going into a firefight. But in broad daylight? Who authorized that kind of crazy mission? SEALs worked in the dark of night to avoid being seen by the enemy. It was rare they would be out on a daylight mission. What a FUBAR. Whoever put this op together was crazy.
Taking a deep breath, prone on her belly, she was glad she had on a Kevlar vest so she wouldn’t have small stones biting deeply into the front of her chest. She had a 24X magnification on her Night Force scope and could clearly see in the late-evening sunlight the man she’d chosen to kill. Glancing at her watch, she had two minutes before those five minutes were up. Hutton had damn well have gotten his SEAL ass in gear.
The sun’s slant was changing. Khat patiently watched her target. Every once in a while, she’d twist her head, glancing toward the SEALs slowly making their way up the steep slope. They blended in, but the Taliban had sharp eyes like her.
Nothing from Hutton.
Nostrils flaring, Khat settled the scope on the nearest man holding an RPG casually over his shoulder. There were seven tangos in total who had RPGs. That was more than enough to kill these four SEALs. And they were a hundred feet of being in range of them. Slowing her breathing, she sighted, her finger brushing the two-pound trigger. Exhaling, she allowed her lungs to empty naturally. There was a one-second beat between inhale and exhale. The snipers referred to it as the still-point. And that is when she took the shot.
The booming sound of the .300 blasted through the silence. The jerk of the rifle rippled through her entire body. Khat instantly shot again. And a third time. She released the spent mag and slapped in another with the butt of her palm. All the Taliban targets went down. Jerking her rifle around, scope on the SEALs, she saw them instantly flatten out against the rocks.