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.
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.
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.
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.
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.