DEEP BLACK SEA – THE HIT

The Squirrel and his 14 man team had paddled painstakingly through the brackish waters of the creek all night, avoiding the maze of mangrove routes where the base was sure the militants would be keeping watch, and approached the camp from the open sea. It was a risky move but Leo was sure with the cover of night he and his men could sneak in unnoticed.

The starless night had served them well, they deflated the boats and tied them firmly to the protruding shoot of a nearby mangrove tree. To an unweary passerby the enclave looked just like another swampy mass of mangrove forest, but enough land had been created just underneath the shallow creek by the amphibious roots of the trees trapping sediment over sediment of muddy silt which had built up over the centuries to create land solid enough for the militants to build their stilt houses deep in the heart of the watery jungle away from the eyes of the world.

Leo and his men spread out in the neck deep waters, the mud sucked at their boots and released a nauseating smell of decaying leaves and brackish crude oil. Polluted water. The night vision goggles they had on painted a bland green landscape as they got deeper into the jungle, watching intently for movement.

It was 4:30a.m. An hour had gone by already and the water was on their waistline now, they must be getting close. Leo looked around and sniffed the air, the stench of human excrement pointed to the camp.

Crepitus’ scent led Leo and his men straight on to the camp just before Helios broke the darkness and dissipated the mist. The men were sweaty from the distance they had covered in the thick silty water. The mire and the swarm of mosquitoes made Leo irritable but he kept his focus as he scanned the rear of the camp.

The militants were not been as edgy as he had feared they would be after his escape and the subsequent blockade of the creeks by the Navy. The observation post was unmanned and not a single sentry guarded the rear, Abiye must have become sloppy or maybe they had just got lucky.

Leo huddled his men together and brought out an aerial map of the camp.

“We are in luck, the militants are not expecting us. I don’t think Abiye believes the Nigerian Government is capable of conducting a stealth operation that’s why this part of camp has been left unprotected.” Leo said matter of factly.

“We must take advantage of his arrogance and move in fast, the hostages should be over here,” Leo pointed to a row of buildings on the left hand corner of the map. “Its about 400 metres from our current location, Mbachu, Obinna, Shallom, Karo, Onos, Ernest,” He pointed as he called out their names. “This is what your squad is going to do.” He drew their attention to a circled portion of the map. Keep them under fire and pin them down here, make sure no one gets too far out of those tents, that’s where the men sleep. If we keep them contained over there, then half the job is done.” He paused to take a look at his watch.

“Alkanor and Wale, slight switch of plans, we have an empty watch post now and I need both of you up there to provide aerial cover for us…” The sudden explosion and subsequent machine gun fire from the distance jolted the men and cut Leo short.

“That should be our back up team, they must have been engaged too early.” Leo said exasperatedly looking at his watch. “They’re twenty five minutes too early, we have little time. Eric you and the rest of the squad are coming with me for the retrieval, everybody move into position, quick!

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Leo carried an XM203 rifle and grenade launcher at the ready as he weaved his way through the thick under-growth of the swamp forest, the weapon was a part of his appendage as he led his men silently through the bush. The sunlight breaking through the canopy of trees above could barely give the men visibility, so they moved with a hand on the rucksack of the man ahead so no one got lost.

The men had all been trained together at camp Gonsalves, Leo could see the thick Japanese forest in his head as they meandered to a bamboo structure just ahead. He remembered their instructor teaching them the rudiments of jungle warfare, how to become one with the jungle and to move quick without stirring the bush. They had been trained to turn all their senses on, to pick sublime sounds and to feel the forest, there had been night-fire classes, quick fire drills, first aid and ambush classes.

Their instructor had been a Vietnam veteran, who never truly left the jungles of that country and his days along the Khe Ta Laou valley, he always told stories of his boonierat compadres surviving giant land leeches, booby traps and hundreds of dinks. The way he described the mosquitoes made Leo wonder if he was talking about vampires, though the Nigerians knew the mosquitoes couldn’t have been worse than the ones they had back home. He was an excellent instructor but everyone knew he was batshit mad.

They slowed down sinuously as they got to a few meters of the line of bamboo structures, the men crawled closer to Leo and squatted in a semi-circle.

“Dayo, you know the drill, make it quick we would cover you.” Leo whispered barely audibly. “Place the payload directly under the stilt houses, I want maximum damage when it goes off.”

The soldier nodded, cross-checked the contents of his rucksack before sliding beneath the thick undergrowth, it was almost like he disappeared; strands of elephant grass twitched and he was gone. Leo glanced at his watch, they had only 30 minutes left. The hostages where holed up in a tent in the middle of the camp and they where going full blast and out before the sun began scowling, with full daylight things could get more tricky.

The men where calm but Leo knew it was of a kind an unsuspecting antelope might feel before a crocodile breaks the surface for its jugular. Dayo got back and with a nod they moved into the camp, one of the men they all called Gori which was short for gorilla due to his thick hairy arms, hairier barrel chest and stocky bowlegs walked point with an M-60.

They were going in heavy, the element of surprise and cover from the other half of the squad their only trump card. Leo felt exposed all at once as they burst out into the open, away from the dense brush surrounding the outer perimeter of the camp, they ducked instinctively scanning the camp, watching, panting like a pride of lions before a hunt.

Leo pointed straight to the tent deep in the middle of the camp 150 metres from their position, but just before they pounced more gun fire came from the west, closer to the camp this time in the general direction of the boro 38 camp. Leo hissed furiously as they hurriedly retreated into the cover of elephant grass.

Like a stirred anthill the militants where beginning to pour out of their tents and out towards the sound of the gun fire. Leo saw Abiye from his place in the undergrowth dishing out orders, men where being posted to guard the tent housing the hostages. A thought crept into his mind, with Abiye dead, their chain of command might derail.

“Dayo!” His whisper was almost as loud as a shout to the men crouching low all around him. “Set them on…” The camp was engulfed in a rumbling ball of ferocious flames reaching for the skies before Leo could finish the words.

He waved his men into attack and they did. Flying out of the bush guns blazing, Leo aimed at the obviously stunned Abiye and let out a short burst, the big warlord took a dive just in time with surprising agility for his size and rolled over as Leo fired a second volley. He came under fire instantly from several directions as the GFNDF seeing their General on the ground tried frantically to save him and succeeded with Leo taking cover in an empty tent to his left.

The camp was under unrelenting fire as the militants got locked in an exchange with the rest of Leos squad, the cacophony of machine guns blasting away at a crescendo.

DEEP BLACK SEA

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The quiet chill that harmattan morning was broken abruptly. The helicopters grumbled furiously over the camp, dispersing the thick wet mist over the mangrove trees and the small birds who fluttered wildly out of the way of the iron beast coming after them.

The GFNDF had expected this since their prisoner broke free. The escaped spy had led the entire Nigerian armed forces to their doorstep and they were trapped on all fronts. Even Egbesu couldn’t protect them and Tomode Pepple the supreme leader seemed to have bailed out on his loyal warriors, Abiye had not gotten through to him for weeks.

Ebika was despondent, he had wept like a beast when Leo slipped through his fingers. He knew the game was up, his men had tried but there was no escape from the swampy island. Fighting would be useless now, but he would die first before the government leads him and his men to the gallows.

The expatriates were the only assets they had left now that their location was effectively compromised. The GFNDF and their allies in Abuja had failed to convince the Nigerian Government to guarantee them safe passage in return for the hostages release, there was no getting off the hook this time and Abiye knew this clearly, though he kept his men hoping. Even if the hostages were released no one can guarantee him anything he can trust, he reasoned.

If the Government refuses to reach an agreement guaranteeing his safe exit alongside his senior and trusted comrades then he would be left with no option than to kill the expatriates or better still use them as human shields to fight his way through the naval blockade already on the high seas surrounding their enclave.

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The British High Commissioner, his American counterpart and the Norwegian Ambassador all ambled after the President, pretentious smiles plastered on their faces as they exchanged pleasantries. The mood changed once the door got shut behind them and they sat down to business.

Walter Mason the British High Commissioner spoke first.

“Your Excellency, I must be forthright and frank…I do not think your military can handle this rescue mission without fatally endangering the lives of our citizens.”

“What do you suggest I do?” The President asked barely audibly.

“Offer them a deal.” Edward Shockely the American answered in his characteristic matter of fact manner.

The President cleared his throat tightly. “That’s not going to be possible at this point,  because we would have to release Tomode Pepple.”

The room was quiet.

“You are suggesting that I let Tomode Pepple off the hook in exchange for your nationals?” The look of shock on his face was a work of art; the security council meeting the previous evening had made this possibility clear to the President.

Anfeldt Kjartan the Norwegian Ambassador replied, “We cannot risk it, there have been other damning attempts before.”

The President knew the military had bungled several rescue attempts in the past but the next elections could depend on a decisive action against the malignant militants. Once word comes out on this operation he would certainly be the hero who didn’t bend over to terrorists like his predecessors, especially after all the bravado he had shown to the media. He shook his head.

“There’s nothing I can do gentlemen, you will have to trust us once again, I am personally grateful for all the assistance especially logistical support but we cannot back down now. All the personnel we are employing for this mission are as you well know fully trained and you cannot fault our intelligence gathering this time.” The President said with a tinge of pride. “In fact, yesterday evening I gave the go ahead for Operation Black Sea.”

The shock on their faces when he said those last words gave Clement Amekora great satisfaction, their arrogance had always pricked his ego.

Edward Shockeley got up first. “We’ve been deeply disrespected by this Sir and I hope for your country’s sake that this doesn’t blow up in your face!”

The contempt on the faces of the two other diplomats as they left the office wasn’t concealed.

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6:02am. The lead pilot looked down on the camp below him, eyes peeled for movement, they had to move in quick. The element of surprise would serve them well if their drop was fast, the militants had anti-aircraft weapons. Two helicopters were on approach, they expected gunfire. It was disconcerting as he watched the soldiers hovering down in their parachutes and not a single shot was fired.

The whole mission had a clandestine air about it, the pilot had never met any of these men before, they seemed to be an elite force the way they carried themselves, not a single word had been spoken since they came aboard and they had no name tags on. At the base only the General had any form of communication with them, the other soldiers nicknamed them the ‘zombie squad’ out of jealousy because they had been given preferential treatment and accommodations, even their weapons were far more advanced than the standard issue AK 47s the regular soldiers toted.

The pilot wished them luck as the last man dove out into the dawn floating like ghostly shadows in their all black kevlar body suit.

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Ebika and his men watched from a safe distance as the soldiers touched down, and for the first time since Leo slipped through his fingers, he smiled. He counted 18 men floating over the Jasper 38 camp, he had expected a heavier show of force from the Nigerian Military and the camp had been rigged with explosives in anticipation of their arrival as they abandoned camp and retreated to Boro 68.

“These are just scouts.” Ebika said. “Don’t detonate yet, let’s take them out one on one, detonating now would be a waste.” His men nodded in agreement, over the years they had come to respect his judgement. On several occasions his split second decision had been the line between operation successful or devastating carnage on their side.

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As soon as the T.A.T.U operatives touched down they fanned out, forming a miniature zulu style buffalo horn pattern with a second group stationed a few meters behind, they scanned the camp intently in the dim light of dawn. General Zagi ever the war historian and fierce pan africanist had worked out these tactics in an effort to confuse the militants who he feared had become too accustomed to the predictable Nigerian Army.

The camp seemed empty the first 15 minutes and the quiet was deafening, but they held their lines, the enemy was to make the first move. The team had expected a hot landing but not a single shot was fired on the choppers or at them as they floated down, which led to one obvious conclusion; the camp was a trap.

The atmosphere was tense with trepidation as they waited. Then they spotted movement.

“Frag!” One of the men shouted to the right.

“Catch ground!!!” They all yelled in unison.

The resounding explosion stunned the men momentarily but they returned fire almost instantaneously in the general trajectory of the grenade. When the shooting subsided, the Captain ordered the second team of eight commandos into action as they held their positions lying down while team 2 moved out to flank the enemy.

The wait was harrowing, over an hour gone and not a sound was heard. Communications with Team 2 said the camp had been abandoned, just as the Captain was to give the go ahead order for the men to move in on the camp, the brash cracking sound of rifles stopped him short.

“Drop that gun as I dey see you so, get up and put your hands on your head.” A snarling voice hissed from behind him.

As he got up he noticed that all 10 of his men had guns trained at them.

Ebika laughed mirthlessly  as they bound the men up.
“Ona own don finish today. Gaga call Abiye tell him we have new hostages.”

The T.A.T.U operatives watched in shock as their weapons where gathered. They wondered how Ebika and his men got behind their lines undetected. The Captain hoped to God that Team 2 was still operational, the militants must have used the grenade to pinpoint their location and run a wide half arc from the left while they unwittingly returned fire.

“Move!” One of the militants screamed.

As they marched off across the bush into the camp, the Captain prayed team 2 already knew they had been made.