Sniper Elite: One-Way Trip
2 AFGHANISTAN, Nangarhar Province
Warrant Officer Sandra Brux sat beside her copilot Warrant Officer Billy Mitchell in the open doorway of their UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit. Sandra was twenty-nine years old with dark hair and blue eyes, an excellent helicopter pilot beginning her third tour in the Middle East. They watched as a six-man team of US Army Rangers ran through a training exercise, rehearsing a night raid “snatch ’n’ grab” presently set for the following week. Sandra and Mitchell were both Night Stalkers, pilots of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), which routinely operated with both Army and Naval Special Forces. Known throughout the Spec-Ops community as the best of the best, they were the go-to badasses in the air for the go-to badasses on the ground, and Sandra was the first female pilot to be made a member.
The Rangers were maneuvering through a flimsy plywood village mock-up, working out the timing of their attack. The rehearsal site was considered “secure” as it was located fifty miles from the lines (to the extent that “lines” even existed in this godforsaken place). The snatch ’n’ grab was to be carried out against a Muslim cleric named Aasif Kohistani living in a small village in the north of Nangarhar Province. Kohistani was the leader of an Islamist political party called the Hezb-e Islami Khalis (the HIK). The HIK was gaining political influence in the Afghan parliament, and recent intelligence reports indicated that Kohistani was now working with the Taliban to consolidate his growing military power in and around Nangarhar Province in the face of the scheduled American drawdown.
Obviously, American forces would not be able to make their scheduled drawdown work if the HIK and Taliban forces began a resurgence, so it was necessary to remove Kohistani from the picture, lest he become as strong as the already troublesome Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who lead the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin faction (HIG) based out of the Shok Valley of the Hindu Kush. Both the HIK and the HIG had made significant gains in parliamentary influence over the past year, and both were violently opposed to Afghan-US relations.
Sandra flicked away the smoking butt of her cigarette and lay back on the deck of the helicopter to close her eyes, smiling pleasantly to herself. She and the Ranger team leader, Captain Sean Bordeaux, had secretly hooked up the night before back at the air base outside of Jalalabad. It had been a much-needed tryst for both of them, each of their military spouses being stationed on the other side of the world. Six months was a long time for anyone to go without, but the nature of their respective jobs was extremely stressful, and this stress had long been exacerbated by the uncommonly strong attraction between them—which was no one’s fault but that of Mother Nature. The sexual tension between them was now dispelled, however,
and both of them were thinking much more clearly, able to focus their full attention on their respective missions.
“Hey, have you heard from Beth?” Sandra asked.
Mitchell sat squinting into the morning sun, watching as the Rangers retook their positions to begin another “infiltration” of the village. He and Sandra were the only security for the training op. He drew pensively from his cigarette, thinking of his wife who was due to give birth in less than a week.
“Last night,” he answered. “She said she could pop any minute. Could be happening right now, for all I know. How come you and John don’t have any kids?”
She lifted her head to look at him. “Do I look like I’m ready to have kids?”
He laughed. “Well, I guess it’s a little different with you guys.”
“You can say that,” she said, rising up onto her elbows. “I mean, we only see each other about four months of the year. Sometimes, I wonder why we even—”
Machine gun fire raked the front of the Black Hawk, and bullets went whining off into the air.
“What the fuck!” Mitchell said, grabbing up his M4. “Enemy front!”
“Incoming!” one of the Rangers screamed from the far side of the ersatz village.
The first couple of mortars struck the ground, their telltale crumping sounds ripping through the air. Two more rounds quickly fell, and the flimsy buildings blew apart like houses made from playing cards. The nearest pair of Rangers leapt back to their feet and came sprinting toward the Black Hawk. Another round dropped just in front of them and they vanished.
“Jesus Christ!” Sandra scrambled into the cockpit. “Where the fuck did they come from? We’re in the middle of fucking nowhere.”
“We gotta get this bitch off the ground.” Mitchell was climbing
into the gunner’s compartment behind her. “We’re a sitting fucking duck here!”
The four remaining Rangers were still a hundred yards off across the village, running hard for the chopper as Sandra flipped the switches in the cockpit and the rotors began to turn. “We’ll be airborne in sixty seconds.”
“We don’t have sixty—!”
A mortar struck the tail section of the helicopter, lifting the hind end of the bird into the air and causing it to slew wildly around. Mitchell was slammed against the bulkhead, splitting his head open, and Sandra was thrown from her seat to the other side of the cockpit. The sound of small arms fire filled the air. Bullets snapped through the fuselage as she tried to call for support over the radio.
“It’s fucked!” Mitchell grabbed for her arm. “We gotta dismount!” A round struck him in the chest and he dropped dead to the deck.
Captain Bordeaux leapt into the bird, grabbing Sandra’s collar and hauling her from the aircraft against a hail of gunfire. They were both hit and fell out the open door. The other three remaining Rangers took cover as best they could near the fuselage, but it seemed they were surrounded on all sides, and the cover among the rocks was sparse at best.
“Did you get off a call for help?” Bordeaux asked, firing a few rounds into a coppice of trees to keep the enemy’s head down.
“They took out the radio first thing,” Sandra said, gasping against the pain in her thigh where she’d taken a round from an AK-47. “I think it’s up against the bone, Sean. Fuck me! It hurts like a holy bastard.”
Bordeaux grabbed up Mitchell’s M4 and jammed it into her hands as he half-carried, half-dragged her toward the rocks where his men were digging in as best they could with the butts of their carbines. “We’re in some deep shit here, guys. No cover and nowhere to run.”
One of the other men went right to work applying a pressure tourniquet to Sandra’s leg. Shock was setting in fast and she’d already begun to fade.
“We’d better think of something fast,” one of the other Rangers said. “When they correct fire on those mortars, we’re dead.”
“They could’ve done that already,” Bordeaux said. “They’re maneuvering to take us alive.”
“Or her,” said a sergeant named Tornero.
“Or her, yeah.” Bordeaux spat in disgust. Their radioman had been blasted to hell, and it would be at least another hour, maybe two, before anyone tried to raise them and thought to send another chopper. This was supposed to have been a very secure zone, which was why it had been chosen in the first place. Something was wrong. “I don’t know, guys, but it feels like they were here waiting for us.”
Tornero was jamming cotton wadding into a shoulder wound. “Yeah, well, the way they’ve been blabbing about the op back at HQ, it don’t fucking surprise me.”
“I don’t like having a woman in this shit,” Bordeaux said.
“Maybe you can trade me,” Sandra groaned, fighting the urge to vomit.
Another furious fusillade of gunfire erupted, forcing them all belly-down against the earth as the enemy maneuvered still closer.
“There’s at least twenty!” shouted one of the other Rangers, firing away, finally managing to kill one. “They’re gonna jerk the noose tight.”
Bordeaux knew their time had run out. It was time to surrender or break out across country, and there was no way to break out without leaving Sandra behind.
“Sergeant, you three haul ass for that defilade!” he ordered. “There’s no other way. Try to fight your way north toward friendlies. Surrender’s not an option here.”
Tornero exchanged looks with the other two members of the
team, all of them shaking their heads. He looked back at Bordeaux and grinned. “I think we’ll stay, Captain.”
“I said haul ass!”
Tornero popped up just long enough to biff a grenade then ducked back down. “You can court-martial us if we live long enough, sir, but we’re stayin’.”
“Stubborn fuckers,” Bordeaux muttered, crawling off for a better look at the defilade to their north. Three of the enemy had already occupied the depression, and they opened fire the second they saw his face. He jerked the pin from a grenade and slung it in their direction before scrabbling back to the others, taking more hits, one to the arm and another to the boron carbide ballistic panel on his back. The grenade went off with a sharp blast, flinging body parts into the air. Bordeaux and his men all sprang into a crouch, firing in all four directions as the enemy continued to maneuver aggressively against them.
One of the Rangers took a round to the face and fell over backward.
Knowing they were down to mere seconds now, Bordeaux fired his M4 until the magazine ran dry then jerked his M9 pistol and turned to aim it at Sandra.
She winked at him and covered her eyes with her hand.
He hesitated a fraction of an instant, remembering the night before, and then squeezed the trigger.
A 7.62 mm slug blew out the side of his head, causing the round from his pistol to strike the ground near Sandra’s shoulder as he toppled from his knees.
Sergeant Tornero spun to fire on the man who’d killed Bordeaux, stitching him from the groin to the throat before taking multiple hits to his armor, limbs, and guts. He pitched forward onto his hands and knees, still taking hits, choking blood as he crawled desperately forward to cover Sandra’s body with his own.
Sandra was struggling to tug Tornero’s pistol from its holster when the shadowy figure of a Taliban fighter blocked out the sun. He stepped on her hand and reached down to take the pistol from the holster, tossing it to one of his men before hefting Tornero’s body aside. He spoke calmly in Pashto, pointing at the American weapons on the ground, ordering them gathered up. The Rangers were quickly stripped of their armor and ammunition, their boots, money, watches, dog tags—everything.
Deep in shock, Sandra was vaguely aware of being lifted from the ground and slung over the shoulder of a squat, muscular man. She opened her eyes briefly, seeing the ground passing below, the sandaled heels of her captor moving back and forth as he walked along.
They walked all the rest of the day, taking turns carrying their prisoner toward the foothills near the Pakistan border. Sometime after nightfall, Sandra awoke to feel herself jostling around in the back of a pickup truck as it made its way higher into the mountains of the Hindu Kush. She mumbled that she was cold, and someone in the back of the truck with her must have spoken English because she was covered with a coat a few moments later.
The next time she awoke was to a bright light being shined into one of her eyes. She was carried from the truck on what felt like a sheet of plywood into a dimly lit hut where she felt needles being pricked into her. She screamed aloud when a steel probe was inserted into her leg wound and struggled against the pain. Someone with gorilla-like strength held her down while the bullet was removed and the wound was sutured closed. After that, a dirty brown sack was slipped over her head, and she was put back into the truck and driven away.
Later in the night, the bag was taken off and she was made to drink a great deal more water than she cared to, a bright flashlight being shined into her face the entire time. She coughed and gagged,
swallowing as much as she could, and the canteen was finally taken away and the bag replaced. After what felt like an eternity, the truck stopped again, and she was carried into another building where she was tied to some kind of a wooden bed.
She awoke in the morning with her leg fevered and throbbing to find that she was still tied to the bed, but that her boots and flight suit had been taken away, replaced with a kind of dirty white gown made from a coarse cloth. A man of about forty sat beside her bed reading the Koran through a pair of dark-framed glasses that seemed too large for his face. He wore the white jubbah of a Muslim cleric, and his neatly trimmed black beard was flecked with gray.
He looked up to see her watching him and slowly closed the Koran, setting it aside on a table. “You are awake,” he said in good English.
“I’d like to have my uniform back,” was the first thing she said.
He removed the glasses from his face and folded them away into the pocket of his robe. “That’s been burned,” he replied. “Your leg has been repaired, and you are far away from your people now. Very far away. They will not be able to find you here. I am Aasif Kohistani of the Hezb-e Islami Khalis. I am the political leader you and your friends were preparing to illegally kidnap from my village in Nangarhar.”
“Brux,” Sandra said. “Sandra J., Warrant Officer. 280-76-0987.”
He smiled a humorless smile. “I have that information already.” He took from the table a handful of dog tags taken from Sandra’s dead compatriots and selected hers from the collection. “You are also Catholic. What else can you tell me about CIA intentions against our party? Are they preparing military strikes?”
“Can I be untied?” Sandra asked, her mouth dry as a sock.
He set the dog tags aside. “It is impossible that you will not tell me what I want to know,” he said patiently. “It would be better for you to tell me now. This will prevent great difficulties for you.”
“I’m just a pilot,” she said. “The CIA doesn’t tell us about their plans. I don’t even know why they wanted you.” And what worried Sandra the most was that this was the truth. She had no idea why the CIA wanted Kohistani or whether or not there were any military strikes being planned.
“You are not just a pilot,” he said, taking her Night Stalker shoulder patch from the table. “You are one of these people. We know this name very well. I will give you one last opportunity to tell me what you know. After that I will call Ramesh.”
“You really have to believe me,” she begged. “I don’t know anything! If I did, I would tell you. I don’t give a shit about the CIA.”
“That is not the answer I was looking for.”
“Do you want me to make something up?” she said helplessly. As she lay there trying to think back to the mock interrogations she had undergone during survival school, Kohistani calmly lifted a previously unnoticed wooden rod from the foot of the bed and gave her a sharp crack against the bullet wound in her thigh.
Pain exploded in her leg. She arched her back involuntarily, her entire body going ramrod stiff, barely stifling the cry that threatened to rip from her throat. She gulped air in deep breaths, girding herself for the next blow, but she knew that it was no use. The pain was too intense.
He stood and raised the rod high over his head.
“Don’t— I’ll tell you!”
He brought the rod down again, and this time with a truly savage amount of force. Sandra screamed in pain, her mind reeling, as the cleric delivered her a third blow. She wailed in agony, sobbing shamelessly as she babbled completely made-up information in a desperate bid to prevent him from striking her a fourth time.
Kohistani stopped short of delivering the blow, tossing the rod onto the foot of the bed with a grimace. “Do you see how senseless . . . how pointless it was for you to suffer?”
She closed her eyes and tried to sob as quietly as she could in an attempt to retain what little remained of her dignity.
“Open your eyes,” he ordered, looking down on her. “Do you know why your country will lose in Afghanistan? The fearless capitalists will lose because they send women to fight their war. Now, I will send in Ramesh to learn if what you told me was the truth.”
He left the room, and a brutish, angry-looking man came in a few moments later, toting a brown canvas bag, setting it down on the table with a metallic clunk.
Gripped by abject terror, Sandra shut her eyes again and tried to disappear.