August 3, 2005
Heels clicking, Representative Dan Holland made his way out of the Rayburn House Office Building, the biggest of the three House Office Buildings on Capitol Hill. The young Democrat from California pulled a package of Kool cigarettes out of his suit jacket, his favorite brand, and lit one.
He sucked in the first inhalation, holding the burning carcinogen in his lungs before exhaling deep. Man, did he need that. Gotta calm down Danny boy, he thought. The day had been rough to him, starting early on the House floor inside the Capitol Building. His party was still the minority, working desperately to regroup from the aftermath of the previous election year.
It had been rough, almost disastrous. The Democratic Party wanted desperately to regain a foothold in the government, and their eyes were deadlocked on the White House. By February of 2004, it was obvious that the junior senator from Massachusetts would be the Party's candidate for President. Holland thought they had a winner. The Massachusetts senator was a Vietnam War hero—someone the Democratic Party desperately needed. For too long they had put up with a constant assault from the Republicans for being draft dodgers, weak, softies, and pencil pushers. They didn't have a George H. W. Bush who flew fighter planes in World War II when the 1988 election came along. In 2000, as desperate as they tried, a Vietnam journalist who spent four months in relative safety in South Vietnam couldn't compare to a fighter pilot in the Air National Guard.
So when the junior senator from Massachusetts came forward, the Democrats came out firing. The rallied behind their war hero, their thinking that finally they could defeat the Republicans in the arena of character debates.
How wrong they were. As was the case in 1998, Matt Drudge, an Internet right-wing gossipmeister, broke another story concerning an affair with a politician. This time it was the Democratic hopeful. And it was only March.
As the year went on, the Republicans never relented. They trapped the Massachusetts liberal into admitting he carried on an affair with a young intern, and then when the smoke cleared, they launched on his voting record—a record that was consecutive with being inconsecutive. A bogus AWOL charge and missing weapons in Iraq against the President could not overpower the capture of Osama Bin Laden and the lack of trust in the former senator. By November, the election was a no-brainer. The incumbent Republican won in a near-landslide and the Democratic Party was left in shambles.
Holland and other congressmen tried to rally their supporters, but the fight was gone, their spirit broken. How could they have hope in a party that couldn't even keep faithful to their wives?
It was a generalization of course, but that was the general consensus and one the Republicans enjoyed bringing up almost every chance they got. Especially on the radio.
Representative Holland and others in Congress realized something had to be done and soon to save the Democrats. And that's why he had walked out of the House Office Building.
He pulled his Blackberry personal digital assistant/cell phone and checked his e-mail. It was too risky to check inside the office building—never knew who could be monitoring the system. One e-mail was in his inbox. Confirmed was in the subject field. There was nothing else in the message. "Perfect," Holland whispered.
The California congressman dialed a private number and listened to it ring twice. "Yeah?" a voice said.
"Can't talk long. But we're good to go," Dan replied.
"I'll be in touch," the voice said and quickly hung up.
Alright then. The game is on.
Near the Khybar Pass
Between the Afghanistan/Pakistan Border
August 5, 2005
Breathing in small white puffs, both the chestnut Arabian horse and her rider were beginning to feel the effects of the cold weather invading the region. Their ride had been rough; the mountain ranges that surrounded the pass was as tough an obstacle as any, and the cold air only made it tougher, but the young mare was strong and agile. It was those reasons that she had been chosen.
Khybar Pass was 33 miles long, lined on each side by cliffs. The infamous Tora Bora Mountains, the former stronghold of the Al-Qaida terrorist group, lay just to the west of the pass, forming one half of its border. The pass held historical significance to the region, it first being navigated by Alexander the Great in 326 BC, later serving as the frontline for British troops in the 1800's during the Anglo-Afghan wars. In 2001, it also served as an escape route for Al-Qaida, and that was what brought the horse and rider to the Pass.
The rider rubbed the neck of the beast, whispering into her ears, calming the horse. He shifted in the saddle, surveying his surroundings. The rider had to be careful where he went. Even though Bin Laden had been captured, the United States military was still a presence in Afghanistan, hunting the remnants of Al-Qaida leadership.
His heels lightly kicked the animal in the sides, spurring it forward into a slow gallop. The wind whipped into this face which was barely protected by a thin piece of cloth covering his nose and mouth. The rider's eyes, though squinting, still watered as he rode through the cold weather, pressing on.
He rode for a few miles, turning to the west into the Tora Bora range, searching. The mountains were covered in war scars from the precision and carpet-bombing they endured the month after September 11, 2001 when the United States of America and her allies began the "war on terror."
It made for a complicated ride. The Arabian, one of the strongest and most agile breeds of horse, struggled to maneuver around the rock debris that had come from the bombing and landed in the middle of the dirt roads that twisted around the mountains. After it finally opened up, the rider allowed the chestnut colored horse to move in a slow trot, the gait giving the horse time to relax, though not really needing it. The Arabian horse, coveted by the Bedouins in ancient times, was bred to have great agility, powerful strength, and more stamina than any other horse.
The horse jerked a few times, a subtle way of telling the rider that she was ready for a strong run. The rider responded, clicking his tongue and snapping the reigns. The Arabian responded, lurching forward and digging into the hard sand, her huge, commanding leg muscles powering the animal forward. The wind kicked up dust and dirt, the rider's smagh whipping behind him. The smagh is a piece of Arab dress worn by males on the head, flowing down past the shoulders and secured with a black egal, or headband. The man had pulled the lower part of the smagh across his face to protect him, but it wasn't quite as effective as he wanted it to be.
Riding for twenty straight minutes, the rider finally found what he was looking for. "Whoa," he said softly, pulling back on the reins, leaning back in the saddle. "Whoa girl," he whispered in Arabic. The horse slowed to a trot, taking a few more steps before stopping. The rider slid off the saddle and landed on the hard sand. He walked a few steps, very slowly, and then kneeled down to stare at the sand. Tire tracks. He squinted, studying the markings. Fresh, very fresh. The winds should have whipped this thing gone if they were not. Looking around, he realized his surroundings were perfect to hide in. They're close then. Mounting the horse, he settled into the saddle and spurred the chestnut Arabian forward, smiling underneath the smagh.
The night had brought colder weather, the temperature dropping quick and putting a harsh chill on everything. The rider had trekked a good quarter mile without the horse, climbing up the lower lying mountains. He had shed his Islamic clothing, revealing a black battle dress uniform underneath, a black mask now covering his face. Slung to his back was a Heckler and Koch MP-5 submachine gun with a collapsible stock and sound suppressor at the end.
The rider came upon the exact thing he was looking for. Two trucks, parked horizontally, formed a makeshift barrier for a group of maybe twelve men, all huddled around a small fire.
They were Al-Qaida remnants, bodyguards mostly, the most skilled of the terrorist organization. These men were hand selected, the top 1% of their "class." But for almost the past four years, they'd be on the run, constantly moving every few hours, sometimes just missing being snagged by the relentless Americans. Osama had told them once that he didn't expect the Americans to react like they did. He believed that the Great Attacks (their reference to September 11, 2001) would have crippled the Americans, causing the country to be slip into turmoil, much like their former enemy, the Soviets.
Yet nothing worked. Try as they did, nothing scared the Americans. Not even in Iraq, where they had stepped up operations using both soldiers from around the world, their ally Ansar Al-Islam, and the contingent they had operating in Iraq for years. It made no difference: the Americans wouldn't budge.
Bin Laden tried to gain support through many disillusioned Muslims, but they all refused to support Al-Qaida. Osama Bin Laden, once being extremely popular on the Arab street, was now just as hated as the United States of America. They blamed him for the wrath of the West, the wrath they were being forced to put up with. Most of those mad at Osama were Middle Eastern leaders who used to have a stranglehold on their people. The USA brought democracy to the Middle East. Only the Jews of Israel had that. No Arab state. It angered and scared them at the same time. Democracy was contagious, and they all knew it.
When the United States of America finally did capture Bin Laden in October of 2004, those leaders hoped it would be the end of the American's "war on terror." They hoped that now the US would leave, their crusade to get the man behind September 11th over.
It didn't happen. The United States with their re-elected president was committed to the fight, something his predecessor was not. With Bin Laden caught, the President wanted the rest of Al-Qaida's leadership caught. That meant Ayman al-Zawahiri, the 53 year old Egyptian physician and founder of not only Al-Qaida, but of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group as well.
It was Zawahiri who was being protected this night, surrounded by some of Al-Qaida's best. They'd been on the run for three days, an American force coming extremely close to capturing the Egyptian.
The rider moved in quietly, crouching behind an outcropping of rocks. Two guards were acting as sentries, one on each side of the truck-created barrier. The rider watched the one closest to him carefully, timing his movements. He reached down to this thigh, his fingers gripping the handgun he had holstered. No, the bullet might ricochet. His hand slid around to his back, this time gripping the handle of a black K-Bar assault knife. The blade slid out of its sheath, the rider reversing his grip, the blade now facing up.
The sentry moved towards him, oblivious to the rider's position. He turned his back, his assault rifle slung around his shoulder. The rider moved swiftly, his left hand covering the sentry's mouth, his right arm coming around in lighting-quick speed. The knife was driven into the bodyguard's neck, the rider pulling the weapon to the other side of his neck, tearing it open. A violent ripping sound could be heard, the skin being torn apart, the bodyguard gurgling as he choked on his own blood. The rider released the body and involuntarily convulsed a few times, the sounds something he could never get used to.
He needed to move now; time was against him. The MP-5 came off his back, up and ready, as he approached the truck. After slashing the truck's tires, he peaked over the bed of the vehicle, took a mental picture of the situation. Not hesitating any longer, he came around the truck and fired three-round bursts into two bodyguards to his left.
Zawahiri saw the man, his silhouette shrouded by the smoke from the small fire. Two more men dropped near him. The Egyptian stood, five men surrounding him. "Kill him!" Zawahiri shouted to his men.
The second sentry dropped, the rider moving around too quickly for the men surrounding Zawahiri to focus on. Ducking behind another set of rocks, the rider collected himself. Six dead. Six left. His head moved around the rocks, assessing the new situation. They were surrounding Zawahiri, moving to the truck. The MP-5 was up as he took aim. One shot into each tire ended that idea, and now the men spread out to find the intruder.
The advantage was heavily in the favor of the rider. He took aim at the nearest bodyguard. The submachine gun coughed once as a silenced round entered his head. Two more dropped before they fell back and began firing wildly into the night, hoping to hit the assassin.
The black-clad commando stayed low, moving around behind the three remaining Al-Qaida terrorists. He slung the MP-5 on his back and pulled his H&K SOCOM .45 caliber handgun out of its holster. Nine shots were fired in succession, the report echoing off the mountain walls. Ayman al-Zawahiri now stood alone.
The Egyptian didn't move. The assassin hadn't killed him yet—that was important given the skill this man had. He was obviously a Westerner, his tactics showed that. Not Israeli though-a Mossad agent or someone of the Duvdevan would have killed him first, then dealt with the others. In the moment he had those thoughts, the gunman was on him, knocking him to his feet and pressing a gun barrel to his head. Zawahiri's wrists were bound together with plastic bindings and he was lifted to his feet.
The gun barrel was jammed into his back. "Walk," the assassin said in Arabic.
The rider had led Zawahiri back to the horse, the Arabian snorting a few times at the stranger. Before the Egyptian terrorist had any more time to figure out what was happening, the MP-5 stock collided with his head and he was knocked unconscious.
The rider moved to the horse, reaching into the saddlebag and pulling an Iridium satellite communications unit out. It was the size of a large cell phone and worked much the same way. He connected a headset to the unit, put it on, chose his frequency, and waited for it to connect. It only took a few seconds. "Iron Castle, Diamond Six, ready to go secure."
"Diamond Six, Iron Castle, go for secure frequency confirmation," a voice said on the other end.
"Confirmed, going secure," the voice replied.
A second later an audible click sounded. The unit was now on an encrypted frequency and anyone who was listening in now heard only static.
"Diamond Six report."
The man smiled. "The Deuce is in the hole."
There was a pause, then: "Say again."
"The Deuce is in the hole, require immediate extract," replied the rider as he gave his coordinates.
"Copy that. Charlie Four-Two inbound. ETA twenty minutes. Switch to frequency yankee-echo-echo-two-five-seven-lima for comms. Iron Castle out."
The MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter dropped down into the Tora Bora mountain range as it made its way to the next checkpoint. The Pave Hawk, a variant of the famous Sikorsky workhorse Black Hawk, was built with special forces missions in mind. It was used to infiltrate, exfiltrate, and re-supply in any weather condition and almost any environment.
Tonight, the Pave Hawk, designated Charlie Four-Two, was loaded with a team of eight Army Rangers on their way to an extraction. They'd been doing this for a few weeks now, picking up captured Al-Qaida terrorists and the men who were capturing them.
This extraction was different. They had Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaida's number two guy. Rack another up for the Americans.
"Diamond Six, Charlie Four-Two, over," the pilot called out after he switched to the proper frequency.
"Charlie Four-Two, this is Diamond Six, go ahead."
"Six, we're about two clicks outside your position, light the fires," the pilot replied.
"Copy that Four-Two, Diamond out."
The Pave Hawk banked to the right and came around a low-lying mountain, then leveled off, following the dirt path below. The pilot, using night vision goggles (NVG), could see bright flashes from four infrared (IR) flares that marked the landing area. The flashes were invisible to the naked eye, but with the goggles, they were bright as day.
"One minute," the pilot said over the helicopter's internal communications system.
The Ranger squad commander nodded, motioning to his men the same information. They positioned themselves as the Pave Hawk settled into a hover and dropped down to the ground beneath them.
Once on the ground, the Rangers moved out to secure the perimeter, each man moving to a predetermined position. A few of them could have sworn they could hear a horse neighing nearby.
The squad commander ducked as he ran out of the Pave Hawk, gripping his Colt M-4 carbine. He approached the horse, his rider, and a man on the ground. The commander aimed his Colt at the rider. "Stand down."
The rider nodded, lowering the MP-5. "This him?" asked the Ranger, pointing to Zawahiri.
"Yep, that's him. He should come to in a little."
The Ranger nodded and slung his M-4 behind him. "Grab his feet," he said as he grabbed underneath the Egyptian's arms. The rider grabbed his legs and they hauled the terrorist into the helicopter. The rider ran back to the horse, took the saddle and bit off, and then smacked the horse on its rear. The chestnut Arabian took off back towards the Khybar Pass. In two days, a Pakistani farmer, who would claim the horse as his own, will find her.
He returned to the Pave Hawk, the other Rangers pulling back and gathering inside with him. The helicopter lifted off the ground, gained the proper height, and moved out towards Pakistan. The Pave Hawk would fly non-stop for the next few hours, receiving in-air refueling as it made its way to Diego Garcia.
The entire flight, the rider, an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency named Scott Beck, never once took his eyes off Ayman al-Zawahiri.