Just as Pasha had promised, the announcement dropped that evening, yet it didn’t arrive through coded email and a mountain of paper. Instead, in the middle of dinner, Silverback’s scrawny welp of an aide had sprinted into the mess tent and summoned Akula. “Pardon, sir. But you’re required in Silverback’s conference room at once per his order.”
At first, the Shark glared up from his finely-prepared slop and pryaniki, making the messenger recoil from Akula’s ice-blue eyes. The palpable fear made Grizli bark out a laugh next to Akula “I think the little pudel just shit himself!”
It was when Pauk let out a barbaric howl of excitement that the Shark sat back in his seat. This was the first time one team lead had been summoned in such a way, and now the two most experienced soldiers had been called in unison. And then a third man had stood, one of squad leads Akula had yet to meet, followed by one of the Su-25 pilots they’d been eating with.
“This is it, brat’ya! This is where we smash the Dawn back to Allah!” Pauk cheered as he left the tent, with others yelling and applauding in return as the majority quickly picked up their eating pace.
Akula’s team was less enthusiastic, turning inward to query the Shark. Nosorog was first to ask “They don’t know, do they?”
“Nyet, or at least I doubt it.” the team lead replied. “I imagine this is where Silverback fills us in on the master plan that Kontrol has crafted for us back in their cubicles.”
“Blyad, I can’t wait to hear the rest of this…” Grizli grumbled, finished off the last bit of pastry on his tray.
The Shark nodded at that, as he wasn’t too keen on whatever bloodbath was about to drop on their laps. “Gear up and…”
The rest of his order was drowned out by the streaming howl of four massive turbofan engines blasting forward to slow a landing Il-76 transport that had just touched down outside. Most everyone left in the mess tent stood to look at the ungainly albatross coming to a rolling stop outside while a throng of ground-crew ran out to meet it with directions to a parking spot.
The fact that they’d now seen another large arrival in only a week’s timeframe was strange enough, but another shrill whine drove the excited murmur up several octaves as a second, smaller transport aircraft drifted down gracefully behind its larger cousin. Akula recognized the trailing An-74 light transport and commando airlift from the many combat exercises he’d played in among the ice and snow. Its arrival filled in a key prediction in the team lead’s mind. Wherever we’re going, we’re being air-dropped in…der’mo…
“And?” Volk prodded, making the Shark pick up his dropped thought.
Akula scanned the room, watching the other teams start to vacate mostly-eaten meals and run out to the runway. Those who had been in Libya as part of the original contact, he could read the anger in their faces. The release of now having even a hint of a plan of what they were going to do. The new faces, unaware of what they’d signed onto with this contract, were excited for far different reasons. Part arrogance, part lies, neither of which breed survival.
“…and standby for now.” Akula amended, weighing the options. “Head to the terminal and start checking parachutes, as many as you can.”
Thankfully, the rest of the team nodded in understanding and rose to depart, leaving Akula to follow the squad leads to Silverback’s bungalow, which had once been a luxury quarters for some uber-rich sheik near the airfield’s former main control tower. He was the last to arrive at the briefing, taking an open seat next to Drakon. Across from him, the Spider nodded his greeting, and the Shark returned the gesture, only now noticing that Pauk now sported a gash from cheekbone to neck and around to his back.
In another vein of disturbing, Solomon was also present in the gathering. The through interrogator gave Akula a cool nod upon seeing him, though all the Shark could see was the faint stain of blood soaked into the monster’s shirt. How did they bribe you out of your pit, vampyr?
Also present at the meeting was Rashadi, who kept his face professionally impassive, simply scanning the room and everyone in it. Silverback, knowing he was in charge of the meeting, looked to be puffing his chest up just that much more in some laughable attempt to show his dominance. “Comrades, this is it! Thanks to the intelligence gathered by Kontrol and by our teams here, we’ve located where these mongrels got their hands on the makings of a nuclear weapon.”
An excited hush overtook the room as a projector flickered to life on the edge of the hastily-assembled metal table they sat around. With it, the ape’s little helper monkey pulled up a PowerPoint file which began with the satellite image of a large airbase to the southwest of Haven. Like much of the former Libyan military, it had been utterly ravaged a decade ago by Western cruise missiles in key areas. Now, in this most recent image, most of the damage had been repaired or mitigated, and Akula could make out several groups of people milling about, working on various tasks. Many of the concrete aircraft hangers had remained unscathed, even if they were now nothing more than junk pits. Several broken down combat aircraft and helicopters also sat in the open, rotting under the unforgiving sun and sand.
Immediately catching the Shark’s eye, however, was the small row of short-range, cheaply imported L-39 and G-2 training jets that looked to be not only armed, but also in flyable condition. And I thought only our ‘allies’ in the LUA had sovereign reign over the airspace…
Drakon also was quick to notice this, as he heard her swear several times over. It wasn’t often she flew with air-to-air missiles, as she hadn’t been contracted for that mission. Do you still remember how to hit a bullet with a bullet, Liliya?
But much to Akula’s surprise, the largest trophies still stood intact, even if decrepit. Sitting comfortably on their aprons, in varying conditions of repair and refurbishment, were a dozen Soviet-era Tu-22/’Shilo’ supersonic long-range bombers. The initial brief Pasha had given him only mentioned them in passing, as they hadn’t flown in decades. Yet in the presentation before them, at least two of the old war machines appeared to be in much better condition.
“This is Al Jufra Airbase, formerly the center-point of Ghadaffi’s long range aviation and firepower.” Silverback began, trying to push his voice out with his chest to help project command in his presentation. “Despite the multiple strikes it has suffered by NATO, there is more than enough clear runway, equipment, and hardened shelters for anyone to use. As such, Kontrol assesses that this is the NLD’s eastern-most base of operations.”
This immediately struck a sour note in Akula’s ear, as it was an admission of a suspicion he’d seen in his off-duty reading. The Libya Unity Army was losing and losing fast. Even on their last mission a week ago, the NLD wasn’t supposed to be beyond Bin Jawad in force, let alone so far south as Al Jufra. By next week, we’d be on the defensive or overrun…no wonder Kontrol sent us tanks!
Taking a laser pointer from his breast pocket, the gregarious gorilla circled one of the larger concrete bunkers in the northern corner of the airbase. “And here, in this munitions storage bunker, is the source of all our headaches.”
Silverback gestured to Solomon who rose from his chair like the undead walker his pale skin and sunken face made people think he was. “Over the past week, with your assistance,” he nodded towards Akula and Pauk. The former gave only a small nod, while the Spider wished to hurry the brief along.
With a taxed grin, the interrogator continued, “we’ve gathered invaluable human intelligence on the extent of international involvement with the New Libya Dawn’s takeover of the nation.”
The torturer paused for Silverback to nod, before continuing his delivery, “The man brought in by Akula’s team is Ri Il-Sung, who I suspect is a serving member of one of the regime’s illicit acquisitions program. Navuk has extracted that he holds a Doctorate in nuclear energy from the Université de Lorraine in Stuttgart, Germany. As well as the honorary rank of Lieutenant General in their mainstay Army.”
The room was silent as the gathered minds wove the information together into a dark tapestry of unwanted conclusions. Aklua let out a small ‘huff’ under his breath as he recalled Nosorog’s words. Perhaps you were right, Rhino. Things would be much simpler if we’d just killed that old pervert.
“The target brought in by Pauk is Kim Chang-ja, major general of the Korean People’s Army Air Force, who holds many hours in the Iluyshian IL-28. For this reason, he was sent to inspect the NLD’s latest holding of Libya’s Tu-22 base. He was expressly told that he would bring one of these back to Kim Jong-Un personally as a Hero of the Democratic People’s Republic.”
The elder overseer looked to them, wearing a smile that made him look imposing even to the Shark. “And in thirty-six hours, we’ll finish the job those fucking Yanks left behind and leave the whole base burning!”
A few excited murmurs picked up, especially from Pauk. But Akula kept his tone unwavering when he spoke up, “And how do we propose to seize a base triple the size of our own? With the handful of armor that was bought for us and a few kind words?” It was half-sarcasm, and half a test to see if Silverback would enlighten them with what the Shark already knew.
The egotistical ape happily bit down on the bait, “Nyet, Shark, We rain down enough missiles from your sea-faring brothers to make them beg for Allah’s mercy!” The slide changed again to reveal the sailing timeline and courses of the inbound naval flotilla of two warships, raising the excited murmur to a cascading roar. Yet despite the Spider’s energized eagerness for bloodshed, the Shark remained unconvinced. You just couldn’t resist showing off your ‘strategic brilliance’, could you, Silverback?
Yet beneath the tide, Akula could pick up on notes of concern from the masses. On the surface, the plan itself was brilliant in its simplicity. Or at least it should have been, in his eyes. As harended as Al Jufra was, would it stand up to a focused, concentrated pounding by two of the Motherland’s finest warships? Just bury all that nuclear material under a thousand tonnes of fire and sand and let time digest it.
“And then what?” asked the Spider, arms folded across his chest. “So we blow up anything these sandrats have and storm the base, what then?”
“After the initial engagement, our contract is to occupy Al Jufra and ensure all nuclear materials, components, and technology are removed from the base.” Silverback began.
Rashadi was quick to inject, “Without destroying the useable combat equipment that remains. The Unity Army will make use of it in the continued struggle to restore the national government.” This caveat earned their benefactor a subtle, but angered glare from Silverback, which Akula picked up on.
“Except for the larger bombers, those will be targeted and destroyed. We will not allow either an extremist movement, or the North Korean government, to take possession of such vehicles. International treaty stipulates this clearly.” the bulbous overseer shot back, trying to assert his order over the Qatari that right now paid their bill.
“AFTER, and only after, all non-indigenous troops and personnel have been cleared from the area.” Rashadi shot back with equal abrasiveness. “We’ll not have another party or government bringing unnecessary pressure into Libya. The national power struggle is fractured enough as is.”
An unnerving beat of silence filled the room, as the disparity in leadership and direction usually kept to Silverback’s office and teleconferences now laid bare. Akula could see the many sides of absorbing such a fracturing, from Pauk’s unchanged anger to Drakon’s cringe of uncertainty. Even he felt the confidence level seeping out of the room like a hemorrhaging wound, and shit leadership has already gotten us mauled…
“So which comes first, the missiles or the cattle-rounding?” Drakon asked to break the quiet. Akula had his suspicions, and he didn’t like them. No way you got the actual Navy involved if there was a chance of bombing North Koreans…means Kontrol told Sevastopol we’d clear them out first.
Silverback glared at the pilot’s brazenness, as if she were questioning the masterfully crafted battle plan. Looking over at the Qatari briefly, a small grumble escaped sunken lips as the overseer replied, “In order to ensure accurate targeting and minimized non-extremist casualties, we will be moving on Al Jufra with our own capabilities first.”
The previous tide of excitement turned to anxiety and apprehension as Silverback laid out the coming night’s operation. As Akula had predicted, his team and Pauk’s would be airdropped in close to the base’s perimeter after Drakon and the Su-25s made their initial bombing runs on the active combat jets and any sort of anti-aircraft measures the satellite image had captured. Fortunately, the images showed little in terms of heavier firepower, but both Shark and Dragon shared a knowing nod that there would be something the planning phase missed.
From there, Akula’s team would round up the Koreans working on the flightline and the bombers and move them to an open patch of the airbase where they would be free of any blast shockwaves. Because Al Jufra supported larger aircraft, it had plenty of open room next to its long runway to make that easy. Meanwhile, the Spider and his remaining men would be sent to secure the nuclear materials building, flush out any Koreans from there, and get them away from the incoming strikes. Other, newer teams were assigned as fire support and building cleaners, charged with searching each and every hanger, equipment shed, and half-destroyed rubble pile on the base to ensure only native Libyans and other NLD jihadists would die in the second phase of the mission.
Once the missiles had fallen and the airbase secured, the Unity Army would move in with a full force from the east and take possession of the base the following day. And all of this was to be done with the least amount of equipment damage possible, lest any of the teams risk a contract fee reduction or another blacklisting.
The Shark hated the plan, both its unnecessary complexity as well as its politically-coddling construction. The first wave of airstrikes risked their element of surprise as well as being shot down by something they’d not seen this far. Even as capable as they were, two ground-attack jets would run out of munitions long before they wrought the needed damage to truly shut down the airbase.
Then came the international issue, as trying to pull a bunch of non-cooperative North Koreans out of their defendable positions and herd them like uncooperative cattle would be stupid at best. Kontrol didn’t provide them an accurate head-count, so Akula and Pauk could easily miss someone, and it only took one desperate Korean to shoot them all in the back.
Then there was the delayed naval missile strike, which would allow plenty of time for the NLD forces to fight back or run back west to Sirte, dragging the war on even longer when a substantial blow could be dealt right then and there.
So the Shark was thankful when the Spider slammed his fist into the table first, as it ensured there was common thinking among the pawns who would be carrying out this insanity. “This is a bullshit plan!” The newly-scarred soldier aimed an enraged finger at the Qatari funds master. “If they’re paying for cruise missiles, then we use them! I’m not taking my team into a death trap to get shot up by these mongrels trying to save a bunch of juche-fuckers who’ll be shooting at us, too!”
It was then that Akula stood up from his seat, moved the projector aside gently, and unplugged it. Keeping his calm by clenching his fist hard enough to force it into a paler white, he glared at Silverback. “If there are Korean soldiers, uniformed or not, working with these insurgents, then they are enemy combatants and will be treated as such. We both know there’s no way those hermits will admit they had troops here publicly.”
Silverback stood as tall as he was able, which pushed Akula back thanks to the sudden intrusion of blubber. “Political matters aren’t your concern. Your contract is to follow MY orders, and I have advised Kontrol that we won’t be inflaming tensions without express permission.”
“So we’re gonna shield these fucks from our own contract? We take away what their Dear Leader sent them here for, they’re going to attack us!” Drakon exploded from her chair. “Why not just ask me to suck all their dicks at once?! It’s insulting and ridiculous that you think this is the best option!”
“Der’mo, she’s right, Silverback. I may be new blood here, but I know a shit plan when I see it. This is the same kind of trap we flew over in Chechnya, and I’ll not lose any more wingman to this kind of filth.” the Su-25 pilot concurred, sitting upright in his seat. Akula was sure to file away part of the declaration for later, So that you never meet our Rhino, else he demands revenge on you, too.
“Shut up, all of you!” Silverback exploded, shoving the Shark back and gesturing with jiggling fervor at the dissidence before him. “None of you have the a…” the gargantuan gorilla began, before the calming fist the Shark had been arming finally flew, connecting with Silverback right in the temple and laying the larger man out.
“You’ve had that a long time coming, cossak…” Akula growled as he stepped over the fallen overseer to confer his aide. “Advise the Moskva and the Severodvinsk that we’ll be sending them an updated mission profile and launch window.”
Before the frightened assistant could eek out a complaint nod, the Shark turned to the rest of the assembled table. “New plan; we let the Navy take out the heavy guns, the fighters, and anything else they can from afar. Then we roll in and secure both the bunker and anything not on fire. Understood?”
Pauk’s wrathful grimace turned to a nod full of conviction. Drakon also gave her approval, as Akula knew she would. The Su-25 pilot at the table also gave an approving nod after mulling it over for a moment.
Only Rashadi, looking aghast at the scene that had just played out in front of him, threw up his hands in disapproval. “No! Unacceptable! The clients have specifically directed that…”
“Call it an unavoidable loss in battle. Fuck, blame the Dawn or the Koreans if you like, say they sabotaged anything they couldn’t escape with. But if it fights us, it doesn’t get a warning.” Akula snapped. “Your people made this contract to help you win this war and save whatever it is you think is important in this shithole sandbox. Now let us do that as your blood money intended.”
The Qatari worked his jaw several times, and the sailor waited to see what venom came spring out. With an exasperated breath, Rashadi turned and stormed out of the room, phone already in hand to call his masters. With that oversight departed, Akula turned to the rest of his leads. “We need every image and piece of intelligence we have on Al Jufra since the NATO campaign, and an updated Spook Schedule. If we do this, we do it right. And if we can find Sova or any of his team…we bring them home.”
Part 11(!) in the on-going Libya operational mess. International warfare, lethal and not, is a very tricky thing to manage. Originally, I couldn’t decide between breaking up all this planning and arguing into smaller parts, or putting if forward as one massive chunk. Much feedback would be appreciated on how much is too much, or how tight a scene feels is too tight when the rest of the world is still out there.
I hope you all enjoy.