The enemy was coming.
Local dogs were the first to see them. Their frantic barks were easy to translate, “My loved ones live here! Stay away!”
It was hard not to feel bad for the locals. They live in fear from the enemy every night. They say the first casualties of war are the civilians. This war is no different.
There have been over 22,700 deaths in this war since December 2006: civilians and combatants. Six thousand six hundred people died in 2008, alone. That is far more than the US fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The enemy uses every terror means at their disposal: beheadings, dismemberment, feeding live captured prisoners to lions, slowly lowering live victims into tanker trucks filled with acid and worse. These tactics are extremely effective. There are no rules in this war. The targeted kidnapping of children and family members is now Standard Operating Procedure. The enemy has even twisted religion into a cult membership tailored to its warriors and assassins.
After leaving the war zone, I would later experience how hard it was not to feel guilty. The locals over in that compound are good people. Besides the dogs, they are on their own. Once this mission was over, I could go home. Not so for them, this was home.
The enemy doesn’t like dogs. We had been alerted to and had been tracking their new routes in country by following a trail of recently killed canines. Every time the enemy would plan a new route, they would send their scouts ahead to take out any detection systems: in this case, the dogs.
Killing family pets was the least of the cruelty that I would see in my months in this sector: women left damaged and scarred by the atrocities acted upon them in the wilderness, their undergarments hung over tree branches as trophies for the enemy to brag about; the countless bodies, victims of the enemy who press the civilians into service; the terrain, the elements and especially the hopelessness of their existence in their own stolen, corrupted country.
They had been flocking into this region for years; lately, in record numbers. Millions of them. Some called them immigrants, some called them criminals. Some of them are both. I came to know them simply as: refugees.
This is a long war. As long as the enemy rules in their country and throughout the region, I do not see an end in sight.
The plight of the refugees creates not only sadness and compassion, but economic hardships, social and cultural divisions that threaten to tear apart the host nation.
The barking intensified. From a quarter of a mile away, I checked to make sure my weapon was clear. I didn’t want use it. We came here to gather intell. But if the enemy fired first, I wanted to be the one to go home to my family. I silently thanked those dogs for giving us the heads up that the enemy had crossed the line. Then I asked God to keep us safe.
I love dogs. In the bush, in the dirt, in the middle of the night, if you asked me to choose between a good pair of night vision goggles and a good dog, I would take the dog every time. We didn’t have good night vision goggles, just a gen two scope. But even if we did, night vision can’t see through trees, berms or around corners. A dog’s nose and ears can. At that moment I was really missing my dog: Scout. The two nights previous he had found the enemy more than 200 yards out. A silent lifting and tilting of his head, and all I had to do was sight between his ears. Sooner or later their scouts would come into our perimeter.
Many of the scouts were just beaters. They would hump a ruck through the bush, ignoring any kind of noise discipline. But some of them were simply outstanding. The enemy often recruits indigenous people from the interior for just such skills. The night before, I listened as this bush rat patiently took over half an hour to crawl 40 yards to freedom. He would match his movements to any sound camouflage opportunity that arose. As a distant vehicle would approach he would move. The louder the noise, the more ground he would cover. As soon as the vehicle passed, he would hunker down until the next one.
The plan had been to let the scout pass us, seemingly undetected. Once he radioed back that the route was clear, the main body of infiltrators would move up and we would film them.
That was the plan. The reality had been different. As the scout was about to move over our position, Scout had let out a low growl. In the thick brush the enemy couldn’t see us, but Scout’s growl had compromised our position. The enemy scout hit the dirt and patiently low crawled away. The rest of his squad never appeared. (Part 2
|| Part 3
|| Part 4