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Memorial day, p.5
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       Memorial Day, p.5

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  "Traveling alone?"

  "Yes."

  The agent stamped the passport and handed it back to Zubair, for the first time giving him a good look and noticing the beads of perspiration on his upper lip and forehead. "Are you feeling all right?"

  "Ah yes," answered Zubair, mopping his brow with his handkerchief. "I just don't like to travel."

  The Customs agent studied him for a moment longer. He then handed Zubair his passport and paperwork with his right hand, and with his left, he pressed a button letting his colleagues in the watch room know that he had someone they should run through the facial recognition system. It was nothing alarming. Just a standard precaution.

  Zubair took his documents and proceeded to the baggage carousel where his one piece of luggage with its bright orange business-class tag was already waiting for him. He grabbed the bag and went to the next checkpoint where he was met by a woman several inches taller than him.

  She gestured for him to go the right and said, "Please place your bags on the table and remove any locks."

  Zubair did as he was told, with the sickening feeling that he was about to be discovered. He'd been told there was a good chance that they would ask him to open his bags, but there were others who were being allowed to pass by this checkpoint without any inspection at all. Why couldn't he be one of them?

  He stood nervously as the woman began looking through each compartment of his two cases. He reminded himself that there was nothing for her to find. The only items that could implicate him were several encrypted files on his laptop, but they would need someone from their notorious National Security Agency to decipher those. After several minutes the woman closed the bags and told Zubair he was free to go.

  Astonished, Zubair grabbed his bags and handed his paperwork to another agent. The man then gestured for him to leave the secure area. Zubair placed his passport in his pocket, and looked down the long hallway in front of him. Up ahead he could see daylight. As he wheeled his bags down the hallway he could barely believe he'd made it through customs. Giddy with excitement he quickened his pace. He'd defeated the gauntlet of American security, and there was nothing they could do to stop him now. He was free to roam America and do his work.Youmud Deen, the day of judgment, was fast approaching, and Zubair would strike a mighty blow for Islam.

  * * *

  Six

  PAKISTAN

  Four super-quiet MH-6 Little Bird helicopters wound their way through the craggy canyon at seventy miles per hour in near total darkness. Sixteen of the most highly trained and seasoned soldiers the world had ever seen rode two on each side of the small agile helicopters, their scuffed and worn combat boots dangling in the cool mountain air, their eyes protected by clear goggles. The uniforms varied slightly; some wore flight suits, while others had chosen the desert camouflage version of the U.S. army's standard battle dress, or BDUs. They all wore body armor, knee and elbow pads, and a specialized cut-down helmet with night-vision goggles affixed in a pop-down pop-up mode.

  They carried an arsenal of weapons, ranging from pistols, to shotguns, to sniping rifles, to light and heavy machine guns. None of them had bothered to bring silencers. Their presence would be known within seconds of their arrival, and once they hit the ground there was a chance they'd need every extra bullet and grenade they could carry. They were heading directly into the thick of things.

  The nimble helicopters ducked and bucked their way through the cool mountain air like some sadistic amusement park ride, but the men sitting on the specially designed platforms were used to it. They were miles away from civilization in a foreign land that was among the most desolate and inhospitable places on earth, and every last one of them was eagerly anticipating the battle that lay ahead.

  A voice crackled over their earpieces announcing that they were one minute out from the target. In the resulting flurry of activity, optic rifle sights, red laser dot pointers, and night-vision goggles, or NVGs, were turned on, gear was shifted, and those who weren't already cocked and locked did so.

  The pilots had warned all the men in the premission briefing what would happen next. The helicopters banked sharply around a turn in the mountain pass and accelerated into a steep dive, hugging the terrain as the face of the mountain gave way to a valley approximately 3,000 feet below.

  The isolated village rushed up to meet them. There was no sign of life at this early hour. The pilot in the lead chopper marked the target and began to pull up while the other three Little Birds continued their ground-hugging ride in a race against the clock to deliver their deadly warriors before the enemy could respond and put up a fight.

  GENERAL KEVIN HARLEY focused intently on the grainy screen before him. He had three to choose from, but for now his attention was on the middle one. The other two screens wouldn't have anything important on them for another minute or so. The four helicopters came into view at precisely the expected moment. Harley watched as the Little Birds decreased speed and broke formation. Three of them hugged the deck while the fourth gained altitude. It was hard to tell from looking at his screen since the image was being shot by a small reconnaissance drone circling 10,000 feet above the village, but it was Harley's battle plan and he knew every minute detail.

  General Harley was wearing a bulky in-flight headset so he could communicate with his people over the loud General Electric engines growling just a few feet above his head. In the thin mountain air the engines had to work extra hard to keep the command-and-control bird from dropping like the 12,000-pound stone that it was. The UH-60 Blackhawk was aglow in a wash of modern circuitry and flat-screen monitors. The floor of the bird was covered with bulletproof Kevlar panels, and each man wore a flak vest, even though their intent was to stay out of the action in order to orchestrate the modern military ballet from above. The advanced airborne command-and-control bird had become a second home to five of the six men strapped into the troop compartment.

  Several of them had been stationed in Afghanistan for nearly two years logging countless hours at their airborne consoles. They'd hunted al-Qaeda members, the Taliban, drug dealers, and bandits-anyone who tried to undermine the authority of the new U.S.-backed government, but most of all they hunted al-Qaeda.

  Members of al-Qaeda were at the top of these soldiers' lists, the rightful targets of genuine retribution and hatred. To a man, their reasons were both personal and patriotic. While their fellow Americans went on with their lives, these Special Forces operators were on the other side of the planet stoically settling a score. To refer to them as simple vigilantes would be an insult to their level of sophistication and training, but even they would admit that they were on a mission of revenge. They were here to send a very clear message that America would not tolerate the slaughter of 3,000 of its citizens.

  The sixth passenger in the troop compartment was an outsider, but a welcome one, and a man they all respected. Mitch Rapp had heard of this outfit before. Men and women from the CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO) would return from Afghanistan and tell stories about Task Force 11, an amalgamation of Special Forces bad-asses from the various branches of the U.S. military. They were well funded, well equipped, exquisitely trained, highly motivated, and feared by anyone with enough sense to understand that they were quite possibly the most seasoned, potent, mobile fighting force in action today.

  The DO operatives, no shrinking violets themselves, were in awe of the bravado and skill this group brought to bear against the enemy. Their fighting spirit was buoyed by the knowledge that their abilities as a unit were unmatched, they feared no one, and held nothing back, for their enemy only understood one thing-brute force. Their kill ratio was off the charts. Having lost only a handful of men since their deployment, they had done serious damage to their enemies, inflicting casualties in the thousands.

  The task force had operated in relative anonymity until someone in Washington decided the PR was too much to pass up. Their accomplishments were leaked, and after that the job had gotten a little more difficult. Repor
ters began nosing around, wanting to know how the group operated. Politicians and Pentagon officials wanted briefings, and a few even made the effort to travel to Afghanistan.

  All of it was a distraction from Task Force 11's mission. Fortunately for the group, everyone's attention soon shifted to Iraq. Shortly after the war started an innocuous statement was released by the Pentagon stating that Task Force 11 was being disbanded. A few of their assets were actually transferred to the new theater of war, enough to give credibility to the story but not enough to harm the group's effectiveness. With the attention of the world focused elsewhere, Afghanistan turned into the perfect place for the Special Forces to hone their skills-and General Harley and his men had done exactly that.

  Rapp had never met the general before, but the two clicked almost immediately. As soon as Kennedy had given him the go-ahead, Rapp was on the phone to the Joint Special Operations Command telling them what he needed. By the time he landed in Afghanistan, Harley and his men were ready to go. Harley was skeptical of Rapp's plans at first. He'd been in Southwest Asia for the better part of two years and had been rebuffed so many times for asking to cross the border into Pakistan that his superiors back at MacDill Air Force Base told him to cease and desist, or he'd be reassigned.

  Rapp suspected that sometime between his departure from Washington and arrival in Kandahar, Harley had realized that this was probably going to be his one and only chance to set foot in Pakistan. The operation that Harley had drawn up for him was far more than a simple snatch and grab-it was a full-blown assault. Rapp had been involved in enough of these types of operations to understand that it was never a bad idea to take into account what the military commander thought was the best way to crack a nut, but he'd been thinking of something smaller, something less complex. Harley's plan was neither. It involved a force five times what Rapp had imagined and it was absolutely ballsy.

  The Special Forces community, more than any other asset in the American military, was forced to constantly refine their abilities and strategies. They looked for ways to either avoid repeating mistakes or to minimize the effect of things they could not control. This zeal to avoid repeating the mistakes of those who had gone into battle before them meant that no single modern engagement had been analyzed more thoroughly than the incident in Somalia in 1993 where nineteen Army Rangers and Delta Force operators were killed in a daytime raid that had spun disastrously out of control. There wasn't a special forces commander on active duty who hadn't studied every last detail of that Mogadishu operation, and they'd all come away with the same conclusion: never operate during daylight if you don't have to, and if you're not sure what you're up against, don't go in without close air support, or armor, or both.

  For political reasons the close air support that Harley wanted to bring along wasn't an option. They were supposed to get in and out without alerting the Pakistanis, and if Harley brought in an AC-130U Spooky gunship it would immediately be picked up by radar. The mountainous terrain and the brevity of the mission dictated that armor also was not an option. That left General Harley in the difficult position of trying to launch a helicopter assault into a hostile village numbering approximately 1,000 people without armor and without fixed-wing close air support. And this wasn't just any village. According to intelligence reports from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, this was an al-Qaeda stronghold. These people were not going to simply hide in their huts and wait for the Americans to leave. They would put up a serious fight.

  General Harley's solution to the problem at first seemed a bit much to Rapp, but as the general walked him through each element of his plan, Rapp began to see the true tactical genius behind it. Kennedy had gone to the president and received permission to launch a covert strike across the border into Pakistan. General Harley had decided to use the broadest definition of the wordstrike, looking at this operation as his one and only chance to clean out a vipers' nest, and Rapp wasn't about to stand in his way.

  * * *

  Seven

  Ali Saed al-Houri was sleeping peacefully for a change. He was only in his mid-fifties, but he had endured an incredibly hard life. With his stooped posture, his limp, and his graying beard he was often mistaken for someone much older. He was Egyptian by birth but no longer claimed that part of his ancestry. Al-Houri was a Muslim, and Allah had no borders. Nationality was for pagans, and al-Houri was a true man of God.

  One of the original members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, al-Houri had been imprisoned twice by his government and brutally tortured by the Mukhabarat, or the Egyptian secret police. This was the source of his limp and of his nightmares. Al-Houri had been implicated in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and in the subsequent crackdown he was rounded up along with hundreds of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood and tortured mercilessly.

  They all broke eventually. Some of them told the truth, others said anything to stop the pain, and there were a lucky few who died due to mistakes made by overzealous and inexperienced torturers. Several of his fellow captives went insane and there were a weak few who left the cause, but there were many more, like al-Houri, who grew closer to Allah.

  Sitting alone in his filthy cell, with no bed, blanket, or pillow, he sweated his way through the days, too tired to brush away the flies that pestered his battered body, and shivered his way through the chilly nights. During this excruciating state of physical and mental anguish, al-Houri had grown to understand his God on a truly mystical plane. Allah had spoken to him and told him what must be done.

  Islam was under assault, yet again. And this time it was not by conventional armies. The West was waging a coward's war using technology and commerce to eat away at the very fabric of the Islamic faith. They were poisoning the minds of Muslim children and leading them astray. The Arab people were in the midst of another holy war, and they didn't even know it. It was al-Houri's mission to spread the word, to pick up the sword in defense of his people, his religion, and his way of life and to protect them all against the infidel.

  The torture, the hardship, the expulsion from his place of birth, the last two years on the run, were all worth it. Al-Houri and his people were about to strike a mighty blow for Islam. This was the thought that comforted him as he slept. Allah had given them a great gift. Very soon America would pay for its colonialism and corruption of the children of Allah.

  Al-Houri was not normally a sound sleeper, but he found the remoteness and fresh air of this mountain village refreshing. He'd traveled here frequently over the past half year, and this quiet town had turned into his base of operations for what was to be the greatest attack ever launched against America. Al-Houri had split his time between the village and the dirty and overpopulated city of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province. Whenever he came to the village he would dream of the noises the city made. There was a faint rumbling in the distance. In his dream al-Houri couldn't quite place it. Was it a train? The noise continued to grow until it was punctuated by several louder cracks.

  Al-Houri's eyes snapped open, and he struggled to focus. He began to sit up, his body still stiff from sleep. The wind was howling outside, buffeting the house, whipping dirt and pebbles into the air, peppering the small bedroom window. Was a storm upon them? There was another noise, eerily familiar, but not loud enough to be that of his worst fear.

  Then came a noise he knew all too well, the distinctive sound of an AK-47 machine gun firing on full automatic. The burst was followed by several quieter pops. As another few precious seconds ticked away al-Houri shook the sleep from his brain and realized what was happening. He looked to the bedroom door, urging it to burst open. Closing his eyes, he whispered the name of his bodyguard Ahmed. The Afghani had been a loyal servant for seven years. His orders were specific. Al-Houri knew too much. They could not allow him to be captured alive.

  There was a muted explosion followed by a thunderous bang from the other room. Light flashed under the crack at the bottom of the door
and more guns joined the battle. Al-Houri cursed himself for having been lulled into a false sense of security in this isolated village. How could this have happened? There were many believers in the Pakistani military and government. They would have risked their lives to alert him to such treachery. He continued to stare at the door, praying his bodyguard would burst forth at any moment. Where was Ahmed?

  Finally, the door to the bedroom opened with a crash. As if Allah had answered his prayers, it was Ahmed and not some American mercenary. Ahmed had his weathered Kalashnikov in his hands and was lifting the muzzle, a pained expression on his face, his eyes filled with dread over carrying out his sworn duty.

  Al-Houri smiled in relief at the man who had become a son to him. He closed his eyes and welcomed his death and destiny knowing that the Americans themselves were about to be dealt a mortal blow.

  * * *

  Eight

  The four helicopters had swooped down on the sleepy village like predatory hawks, making little more noise than a strong gust of wind. Thirty-two well worn boots had dangled in the air, eagerly waiting to touch the ground. As they had passed over the flat rooftops of the dark village each man looked through his night vision goggles for potential targets. From the lack of activity below it appeared they'd caught the enemy by surprise.

  Approximately one hundred yards from the target they came under fire. A Delta Trooper dangling from the first Little Bird dispatched the guard with two quick shots from his M4A1 carbine. Seconds later two of the Little Birds landed in front of the target, their flexible landing skids carving fresh tracks into the dirt road. A third landed behind the target, and the fourth and final bird came in more slowly to drop its troopers on the roof.

 
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