Somewhere over the Balkans, October 29th 2012
The ramp on the C-130 began dropping open as the plane got closer to the drop point and I began to psyche myself up for this. And I needed to- this was not your normal job. No sir it wasn’t…
I had been home on PCS (Permanent Change of Station) leave, on my way from Dam Neck to San Diego when my phone rang. When I saw the Virginia number, I thought nothing of it and ignored it. After the fifth time the number showed up, I answered…. And kinda wished I hadn’t.
The call was an Emergency Recall Notice, pulling me back off leave. The place it was pulling me to wasn’t Dam Neck though. It was to Langley. Once I got there, I got the full lowdown on what the emergency was.
The CIA had managed to locate a Person of Interest in the Balkans- specifically in the mountainous areas of Serbia- that may have played a role in the Benghazi attacks. And they wanted him badly enough to work with the Russians to get him.
Why the Russians? Well, that answer is a touch complicated and yet simple. You see, the Intel agencies do maintain areas of Mutual Interest and the Counter Terror area is one of those. Granted, the Russians have had a hand or three in helping various groups over the years but got away from it when various actors started shit in their back yard. Some of it had Agency Trainers but most of those were smart enough to leave the main areas of the Rodina alone. The Chechen bastards- that was a self inflicted wound for the Soviets… and there wasn’t anyone who didn’t sympathize with the Reds over that shit… The Chechens were that brutal.
But for this job, it would seem the Target, Ioseph Belov, was of special interest to all parties.
We, as in the Agency, suspected he was the primary trainer of some of the attackers on our Embassy (what? you thought it was spontaneous, didn’t you? Ha!!) and he had caused some serious grief for the Russians too. Besides being Ex Spetsnaz- which was egg on the face- he’d managed to carry out several jobs involving ransoms of Big Wig Russians. Some businessmen and at least one Politburo member’s family. That last one saw the family die as no one thought the Hostage Taker was actually going to kill a Politician’s family. Especially in Russia…
He escaped that one by being better than the Militia sent to get him. And to be honest, he probably was better than most American cops if it had happened in the states (Jersey and Colorado Troopers being exceptions- those guys are damn good). Which meant a military team was going to be needed to get him. Wherever he was. And when he was located here, the Agency realized they didn’t have an Action Team available.
When this was realized, someone got the idea to pull the Co-Opt Card with the Pentagon and borrow a team. Considering the number of Operators they have used in past loans was small, they had a list of who they wanted to borrow. And on that list… was three Seals- Myself, Phantom and Tiger.
Of the three of us, I was the language specialist… as I spoke Russian and Serb. I had passable Croat but it was the first two languages that were important- as well as my Area Experience; I had done a lot of work in this region and knew a thing or two about its people. Granted, that info was a bit old now but still…
Phantom was grabbed because of his Area Experience- as a young Lieutenant, he had led one of the last snatch teams in this area (I was on it, so I know) and even though he was a full Commander now, he was still active on the various teams. And he was still on their list over ten years later. Go figure…
Tiger was there for much the same reasons as Phantom- he was part of those crazy jobs back then too and experience in a place really is a thing. Add in his experience with working alongside other country Spec Ops guys and we were the logical (?) choice for any team being formed.
The other three SEALS with us were a hodgepodge of talents and skills. All valuable and all lower ranks (all second class petty officers) which meant as the senior Enlisted as a Chief, all the fiddly bits of running a team fell on my shoulders.
Of the three, likely the most important was HM2 (Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class) Kyle MacPhearson. A fairly gregarious lad, he was a second generation Seal; his dad had been one of the Marcinko Seals and Kyle tried to follow in his pop’s flippers. As a Corpsman, that wasn’t likely happening but he was here and our Doc for this mess. Considering Corpsman were rare in the Teams, I wasn’t sure if this was an omen.
The middleman, so to speak, was the bald badass with a movie name. Marcellus Wallace, all six-foot-two of him, was a powerful black man- much like the character his momma named him after. A talented Machinist Mate, he was damn good with machines and knew his way around cars. As Ving (his callsign) put it, he figured he’d learn something more than basic mechanics that he got in a chop shop. If this didn’t work out, he always had that to fall back on.
Last to the team was a former Gunners Mate, Charlie Motaki. A beach bum before joining, he showed an affinity for weapons and as a surfer, his swimming skills were pretty stellar. He signed for the SEALS when he realized he’d get to swim a lot as well as being always busy. As he put it when I spoke to him prior to this mission, he doesn’t get in the water as much as he thought he would but at least he’s never bored in this job. One way of looking at it, I guess…
Now, remember when I said the Russians wanted Belov? Well, they committed a six man team of their Spetznaz troops to the effort. Normally, Spetznaz troops tend to run in larger numbers than six- I always thought they were in groups of 10-12 like the Green Beanies… but given how successful we SEALS have been as well as the UK’s Special Boat Service boys, the Russians started to do the same. At least with the Spetznaz teams connected to their FSB.
Of the six they sent, two stuck out for me. Their Captain, Grigori Ustinov, was a fairly taciturn fellow, and started out quiet when I met him. Given he had to work with Americans, I could understand this. but he seemed to open up a bit when Phantom was introduced- turns out they knew each other from something in Moscow a few years back. Small world.
The other was Vasily Filitov. He was the senior Non-Commissioned Officer of their group, equivalent to an E-7 in rank. Spoke very good English and a smattering of Pashtun, he’d been soldiering a bit longer than me and was one of the last Soviet troops out of Kabul in 1989 as a private. As our respective groups Senior Enlisted Types, it would fall to us to get our teams to work together… and do it in jack time. We had a whole three days prior to this drop…
Thankfully for the both of us, our men knew we needed to mesh and mesh fast. The benefits of working with professionals… and in one of the odd items where the Russian guys were concerned, they were all Careerists. A rare thing in the Soviet armies… but good here. It meant training was solid and there were no questions on ability- you had to be good or you would not be there long in their Spetznaz units. All of them spoke passible English which also helped. Considering they were FSB connected, I did wonder if it was a requirement… Requirement or not, it made working together easier.
Gear for the op was close to identical. Some things were absolutely universal in Operator Gear, like multitools and a love of extra pouches. The other was weapon preferences. Both groups were using tried and true guns- the Spetznaz troops with their AK 74’s and us with M-4’s (Doc and Ving were exceptions- Doc had an MP5 and Ving a modified M-249) though side-arms were a mishmash. In the run up to this, Filitov and I made sure everyone knew how to operate their counterpart’s weapons. AK’s were not common in the teams and everyone had at least fired them. If something happened, at least everyone could use the weapons.
We also tried to standardize where we all carried ammunition and important items. Standardization in loads was key in sticky situations… which is where being professionals helped. All of us knew the why for this way of loadout and adjusted fast.
It was probably going to be important.
So as the Ramp opened up to reveal the moonlit darkness, we twelve commandos stood up and shuffled toward the gaping hole forming in the tail of the plane. This was to be a Vertical Insertion… We drop in, form up and make the hike to the Dacha our boy was supposed to be in. Get in, kill anyone in the way and get him out. He was a Take Alive at All Costs target and both commanders had the knock-out juice for making Belov a noodle.
Exfil was to a potential LZ about ten kilometres from the place. Here was hoping this job wasn’t like the last time I did one in this country; that was a fucking shitshow.
Little did I know what was coming…
The light for Jump went GREEN and out the back we went.
Falling like stones, the idea was for all of us to wait until almost the last second to pop chutes- it would limit scatter and minimize in the air time. And apparently, the Spetznaz side of our band liked to live super dangerous.
I was ballsy in pulling the cord at 125 feet- about the lowest I’d go. The Russians…. I swear one of them popped it at fifty and flared hard after. How he didn’t break something… Just wow.
After we landed, Filitov had a few sharp words with the fifty-foot wonder; apparently, he was showing off for the Americans. After the quiet scolding and adjustment to movement plan- we were eight kilometers away from our target and sunrise was in just over three hours. Not enough time really but it could be done. If the ground had been more flat, we could likely do it in two hours. But it wasn’t; the region we were in was hills and mountainous so it was going to take longer.
Shit… nothing in the Balkans was flat and if there was a means to shorten this hike, it would be found.
We managed to find a beat-up pickup at a cabin along the way and with a bit of coin for the old man who owned it (Who knew the Russians did as we do with extra cash?) and an admonishment to remain quiet about who was here, we loaded up and used it to get far closer to our destination. All told, it saved us a good forty-five minutes and allowed some rest.
Jumping out about a kilometer from the Dacha, we separated into three groups of four and started for the place. Clouds had moved in during our trek and the air grew colder. As we made our way closer, those of us who grew up in the mountains (like me) got the sense that the weather was about to turn bad. It smelled and tasted like snow….
Getting to a point that overlooked the Dacha, I could only scream internally as Phantom and I looked at each other. We had the right place alright- GPS for us and the Russians agreed on where we were… but what we were looking at was more than just a Mountain Retreat Cottage. It was a damn collection of buildings… a cross between a compound and a village.
And there was a damn sight more than a handful of people here. More like fifty.
A quick-as-hell conference was held by the four senior folks in our band, with everyone else pulling security. And Ustinov was not surprised by what we had here.
“So you expected this?” Phantom asked.
“Da, I did,” Ustinov replied. “Belov is like American Gangster… Must have staff and bodyguards everywhere he goes now. Didn’t your CIA tell you?”
“Fuck no… most they had on him was he ran with about a dozen people when he stayed in one place. Made him quick to move when he had to.”
Ustinov shook his head. “Is not wrong…. But he lives here and in Belgrade. Easier to get him here than there so more guards,” He shook head. “Am surprised he has so many here around him, too. Don’t misunderstand- I expected him to have lots of guards but not this many.”
I sighed. “That is at least a small comfort, Captain,” I said. “Next you are gonna tell me folks like us are reason for all the guards.”
Filitov gave a dark chuckle. “Ganic, you did mention you did work in this area… The Hague work you did was studied as object lesson in adjustment to failed intel. Wouldn’t be surprised this is why there is so many. We Soviets have done similar snatch missions since then. We are probably bigger reason for all the guards…”
I stared at him. “You mean…”
Ustinov finished as Phantom started to chuckle. “Yes, Chief Ganic. You and your Commander were part of what is now taught in some of our Operational Studies. One of our Ambassadors managed to get the complete report from the UN liaison. Where he got it, I don’t know but is water under bridge. The report is rather fascinating. I should have connected dots when we were teamed.”
Phantom’s chuckle fit subsided. “Grig, I don’t know where he got the report… but I assure you, what happened, happened. And right now, I get the feeling this is more of the same.” He said. “I am starting to think everything involved in this place is cursed.”
Ustinov laid a hand on Phantom’s shoulder. “Comrade, you are not wrong. This entire country one giant curse. But we are here and I think maybe they not expect both our country’s best looking to create problems, eh?”
“Nope… and that’s an advantage.” He looked at his watch. “Ok… same basic plan, just a lot more shooting. We don’t have time or bullets to waste… and at least they don’t have armor…”
“That is no small favor,” Filitov said with a small shake of his head. “I left my RPG at home…”