- Published: 16 June 2021
- ISBN: 9780241481707
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 432
- RRP: $32.99
Tom Clancy's Target Acquired
AL TANF OUTPOST
“WHY ARE WE HERE AGAIN?” MASTER SERGEANT CARY MARKS SAID, SHIFTING HIS weight for what seemed like the hundredth time.
The two-man sniper hide site that Cary and his spotter were nestled beneath offered a number of advantages to its occupants, not the least of which being near invisibility in both the thermal and visual spectrums. It was the closest thing to a Harry Potter cloak he’d seen in his decade and a half of service with 5th Special Forces Group.
But for all the hide site’s technical prowess, it didn’t make the Syrian soil any more comfortable.
“Because we’re Special Forces,” Sergeant First Class Jad Mustafa said, tuning the focus on his M151 spotting scope. “That means we get to do special shit.”
As always, Jad’s gift of understatement had reared its ugly head. Special shit didn’t come anywhere close to capturing the pure and unadulterated joy that had been the last twelve hours. Per the techniques, tactics, and procedures Cary and his fellow long tabbers had perfected during their countless combat deployments in support of the never-ending war on terror, he and Jad had infiltrated about 0300 local time.
The hour had not been randomly chosen. BMNT, or Begin Morning Nautical Twilight, was at 0500. This was the time of day when the human eye could start to discern objects from shadows. Even after thousands of years of civilization, human beings were still attuned to the world around them. Though they might not recognize it as such, the average person’s circadian rhythms programmed them to feel restless around dawn.
With that in mind, Cary and Jad had wormed their way into the shallow depression they now occupied while the rest of their world was fast asleep. And though the rocky soil and surrounding scrub brush had provided exactly the hide hole they’d been hoping for, the accommodations were not exactly five-star.
The two men had made camp on a sand flea nest.
A large one.
Green Berets might be renowned for their ability to destroy enemy forces much larger than their organic twelve-man A-teams, but this was a different kind of battle. Cary had been waging a bloody war of attrition against the little beasties for the last several hours, but the pecker fleas were winning.
“Goddamn it, Jad,” Cary said, trying to ignore the burning sensation dangerously close to his right testicle. “Can’t you just ask some of your cousins for help?”
“Hey, now,” Jad said. “Just because a bunch of biters are munching their way up your leg doesn’t mean you need to get all cranky. Besides, I’m Libyan, not Syrian, you uneducated hick.”
The language exchanged between the two special operators was harsh, but the sentiment behind it was anything but. The two men couldn’t have looked more different. Cary Marks was a blue-eyed, blond-haired farm boy from New England whose vowels gave away his Yankee roots under moments of duress. Jad Mustafa’s dark complexion and SoCal surfer accent made him Cary’s polar opposite. Jad was suave where Cary was simple, and Jad’s teammates often kidded him about being a SEAL in disguise due to his affinity for hair gel and fashionable clothes.
But despite their differences, the men were opposite sides of the same coin. Physically, their years serving on an Operational Detachment Alpha, or ODA, team had given them bodies uniquely suited to their type of work. Both boasted wide shoulders, broad backs, and well-developed chests complemented by an endurance athlete’s lung capacity.
Mentally, the pair were even more alike. Though each man’s upbringing and cultural heritage was radically different, this wasn’t important. As with most men and women who served in the armed forces, and certainly those within the Special Operations community, differences in skin color and nationality ceased to matter long ago. In the Army there was but a single skin color— green— and just one blood type— red.
After half a dozen shared combat deployments, Cary and Jad were brothers in a way that superseded such trivial matters as birth parents or family lineage. Theirs was a familial bond conceived in the most arduous training the military offered, birthed in the fires of combat, and nurtured into the bone-deep trust shared only by men who’ve guarded each other’s backs as bullets whipped past their heads.
The two Green Berets might pick at each other, but woe to the uninformed observer who tried to come between them.
“That’s funny,” Cary said, panning his SIG Sauer TANGO6T riflescope across his sector, “’cause when we were in Iraq, I’m pretty damn sure you said you were Lebanese.”
“That’s because you listen about as well as you shoot. Which we both know is for shit. Without me as your spotter, you’d— wait a minute now. Boss, I think I’ve got something.”
The change in Jad’s tone was unmistakable. Though Cary had whiled away countless uncomfortable hours shoulder to shoulder with his barrel-chested spotter in more combat theaters than he cared to count, the half-Lebanese, half-Syrian, and all-American Green Beret knew not to mix business with pleasure.
As soon as Jad called Cary boss, the time for joking was over.
“Whatcha got, brother?” Cary said.
“Convoy of three Land Cruisers headed toward the front gate. Shift three hundred meters west of point Alpha and you’ll see ’em.”
Cary swung his rifle to the prescribed azimuth and turned on the laser range finder mounted to his scope ring. In that instant, the stifling heat, glaring sun, tired muscles, and even the merciless pecker fleas gnawing their way up his inner thigh were forgotten. This was no longer a game of hide in the dirt and hope for the best. The convoy of factory-new vehicles with tinted windows, sparkling paint jobs, and shiny black tires didn’t fit the
They were an anomaly.
And anomalies were what Cary was paid to notice.
Though, to be fair, nothing about the fortress the men were surveilling approached normal. And in Syria, that was saying something. Rather than the traditional stucco walls that denoted a compound or the concrete-and-cinder-block houses that signified more modern accommodations, the structure one thousand meters distant was unique.
As in Cary hadn’t seen anything like it anywhere.
Earthen berms that stretched fifteen feet tall and ten wide formed something more reminiscent of a medieval castle than a Middle Eastern homestead. The sand and dirt had been bulldozed into a natural barrier and flattened on top into a plateau wide enough to situate fighting positions equipped with crew-served weapons. Earlier that morning, Cary had watched stupefied as vehicles drove on top of the densely packed barriers, bringing to mind the stories of chariot races atop the walls of the biblical city of Jericho.
Cary hadn’t seen any chariots yet, but after hours of logging the occupants’ comings and goings, he wouldn’t be surprised. Unlike the hodgepodge of vehicles common to Syria’s many militias and self-proclaimed armies, the earthen fortress’s occupants had a motor pool with a surprising amount of sophistication. Cary had already noted half a dozen technical vehicles, but on closer inspection, the converted Hilux trucks didn’t have the
hodgepodge look he’d expected. Traditionally, militia groups paired their vehicles with outsized weapons like DShK antiaircraft machine guns or M40 recoilless rifles. Matches like this were just as likely to destroy the host vehicle as the target at which they were aimed.
No, what Cary had observed reflected a customized integration between vehicle and armament. The compound’s weapons tech wasn’t some fly-by-night machinist recruited into turning out weapons of war. The Hiluxes prowling the fortress’s walls resembled something that might have been produced in a 5th Special Forces Group motor pool back in Kentucky.
This was, to say the least, troubling.
And that was before he’d seen the Humvees.
About two hours into his watch, Cary had gotten the shock of his life when a pair of up-armored Hummers had taken a turn around the south side of the compound. The vehicles still had U.S. markings, leading him to believe he was seeing an American patrol. He’d been on the verge of calling in his discovery when the doors had opened and Syrians poured out. Promised mystery visitor aside, the presence of American Humvees was worth investigating by itself.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance.
Cary and Jad had planned their observation post after spending hours poring over satellite and drone imagery, searching for a spot that would offer both concealment and line of sight into the fortress.
They’d managed only one of the two goals.
Biting fleas aside, Cary was pretty happy with the seclusion offered by their vantage point. But visibility inside the compound was a big miss. He could see some of the buildings on the far side of the fortress, but the walls were just too steep to get eyes on much more. After disgorging their passengers and loading up the old guard shift, the Hummers drove back along the wall and then took a ramp to the fortress’s interior, where they promptly disappeared from view.
Even so, Cary had elected to remain in position. Mystery Hummers aside, the sniper’s nest offered a commanding view of the roads approaching the compound, and the Agency asset who’d been the genesis of this operation had been firm on this point. The important visitors the asset claimed were coming would be approaching from the west in tricked-out black SUVs.
And here they were.
They gave him the gun in New York, he was pretty certain, and he thought some money too.
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