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!
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.
They 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.