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By Ben Prewitt





30 September, 2007

Al Fashir, Shamal Darfur, Sudan


            “Je suis comment tu ruier de Haskanita!”

            The Senegalese Lieutenant had been yelling on the radio for awhile now. 1st Lieutenant Andrew Shepard, Canadian Forces, had just gotten to the radio hut and was shouting orders to the several people around him, most of whom outranked him, none of whom spoke French.

2 UH-60s and from S Troop, 4th Squadron, 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment of the US Army sat on the dusty helipad outside the United Nations Mission to Sudan HQ, spooling up to head out with a squad of Indian infantry aboard. What exactly they were supposed to do when they got there was anybody’s guess until Shepard had arrived.

“Just jump on the damn helicopters, and I’ll tell you what you need to know on the way!” He pulled on the headset with the screaming Nigerian officer. “He’s talking about an enemy force about five klicks away moving towards him. He says the OP to the west got overran.”

He pressed the transmit button. “Y a veni de soutien!” His French was terrible, and he knew it. He’d done a few months in one of the primarily Quebecois artillery units, and that wasn’t the kind of French these guys were used to hearing.

“Quand serond-ils ici?” The African on the other end sounded really spooked.

“When can you guys get out to Haskanita?” Shepard turned to the map of Darfur posted on the wall, and started speaking to the radioman, a civilian from UNAMID. “You get on the horn to the OP on the northern side of Kassab. That’s the South Africans. Tell them UNAMITS wants to fucking talk. Now.”

He hated doing it this way. The lines of communication in this portion of Darfur all came back to the HQ post in Al Fashir since they couldn’t afford to outfit everyone with the wireless sets. Unless the actual refugee camps were under attack, they wouldn’t know about it from satellite phones. So he would have to relay the information to the South Africans at the Kassab-2 post, thirty miles away from Haskanita.

The Americans, along with the French, had integrated communications gear with every man. But for this fight, they weren’t using the United States Army. Their element of it that was on call for combat operations was just now taking off in a whirl of dust. Behind them, a mile away on the UNAMITS main helicopter landing zone outside of Al Fashir, three more Mi-17s of the Indian Army were getting ready to go.

“Quand serond-ils ici!?” Senegal-accented French was screaming into his ear.

“Vingt minutes!” He had just told the AU unit commander that the Blackhawks would be overhead in twenty minutes. He didn’t know if it was true, but he’d been on the chopper trip from Al Fashir to the Haskanita camp before, and figured it took around that long. God damn, I’m not good at ballparking it.

“UNAMITS HQ, this is Kassab-2. What’s going on back in the world?” The South African’s Afrikaans-accented English was something he’d grown used to.

Shepard grabbed the waiting handset. “Kassab-2, we’ve got a situation over at the Haskanita OP. Western one’s already been overrun. We don’t know who did it. The Senegalese are holding up. What’s your personnel and equipment situation?”

“Whoa…uh…give us a second, HQ, I’ll be able to tell you exactly what we can send.” The UNAMID volunteer was looking at him, waving a cell phone. Shepard covered the mouthpiece.

“Who now?”

“Lieutenant, I had the number for a UNACEF guy at Haskanita. He’s driving out to the Kassab-1 post to drop his phone off to the Nigerian guy.” The volunteer scribbled the phone number down on a scrap of paper. “Here’s the number. If you have the South Africans at Kassab-2 dial up, they can talk to each other.”

“Fucking brilliant, Terry!” Shepard rattled the number off to the South African on the other end of the line.

“Alright, Lieutenant. We’ve got three Ratels heading over now. It’ll be at least fifteen minutes, and I can’t promise anything once we get there. We don’t even have a full combat load.”

“That’s alright. 3rd ACR’s got air elements and boots heading there now. Indian Army is also on the way. I think we’ll have air cover by the time you guys get your boots on the ground.” Shepard slumped down in his chair, and pulled on the headset for the Senegalese Lieutenant one last time, pulling enough French out of his brain to tell him that help was on the way, and it would be coming in under a half an hour.

            He leaned forward on a table in the cramped radio hut and pulled the piece of paper with the phone number on it over to him, and began scribbling down what they were sending out to Haskanita.

            Three Ratels, 2 UH-60s, 3Hips. There had to be more. The Hips were armed, and the Blackhawks had infantry squads in them, but there had to be more. He asked for the UNAMID volunteer to dial up the USAF air boss at the UNAMITS LZ, where the Indians were just taking off.


UH-60 Blackhawk

18 Miles Southeast of Haskanita


            In the air between Al Fashir and Haskanita, Captain Greg Reilly, callsign Badger, tried to get some altitude to check out the situation ahead of him. The Blackhawk was able to claw just enough altitude for him to see the refugee camp off to his left, and a massive cloud of dust to his right, at least thirty miles away.

            “HQ, this is Badger. I can see a huge dust cloud about thirty-five klicks to my east.”

            An Indian infantryman, looking through the scope of his AKM, spoke up from the troop compartment. “Four jeeps! 6 BTRs! At least four other tracked vehicles! I think they’re T-55s!”

            “What’s they’re ETA to the Haskanita Camp?” Shepard’s voice was audible over the hum of the Blackhawk’s engines. Reilly could only give him a guess.

            “Not too much longer. I see four white BTRs breaking out ahead of them. Looks like the last checkpoint is going to drop without a fight. If this was an exercise, HQ, I’d call that an armoured company.”

            The vehicles were moving around a rocky hill jutting up out of the hardpan about three miles from the refugee camp. As they did, Reilly heard one of the Indians in the back curse. “What’s up?”

            “That jeep in the back!” The infantryman squinted through his scope, trying to keep it steady. “They’re pulling a mortar out of it. Huge baseplate.”

            “HQ, this is Badger, there’s a mortar team setting up on that outcropping a ways from the camp. You want us to take it?”

            “Badger, HQ. Affirmative. Go after the mortar team. We’ve got three gunships behind you and multiple Ratels coming in from the other side of the camp.” Over the headset, Shepard sounded more in control of himself. “Good luck, boys. US Air Force says they’re digging something else up but it’s not in the air yet.”

            “HQ, Badger. That’s a copy.” He turned and yelled back to the Indian rifle squad’s leader. “I’ll insert you guys on the far side of the hill from that mortar team to give you some cover. They’re gonna fire some rockets at ‘em to keep their heads down.”

            The Indian Sergeant gave him a thumbs up, and knocked a magazine against his helmet before loading it in his rifle.

            “Badger, Scarecrow. We’re ready when you are. Just tell us when.” The other Blackhawk was moving side to side out about two hundred yards to his right, waiting for the go-ahead from while he moved into position to drop his troops off.

            “Scarecrow, Badger. Start the music! Start the music!”

            “Yippee-ki-yay, mother fucker!” The call came over clear as the first salvo of rockets came shooting out from the stubby wings of the Blackhawk.

            Immediately Badger dropped his bird like a rock until he was almost to the ground, then pulled hard on the cyclic, flairing out and touching the rear wheel down first as the helicopter tilted up. The rifle squad was already out by the time he got all three wheels on the ground. He saw a thumbs up in the corner of his vision, probably from the Sergeant, but that was it.

            “Scarecrow, Badger, they’re away. Move to LZ. Will proceed clockwise for my gun run.”

            This would be the hardest part for the pilots. Scarecrow’s helicopter still had a squad of riflemen on it, which for safety’s sake would be dropped off at the same Landing Zone as the rifle squad had been, so as to avoid friendly fire. But to switch places, they couldn’t precisely take each other’s places.

            The two helicopters began a dance, rotating clockwise around the hill, only leaving the Sudanese out of firing range for a few seconds. As Scarecrow’s Blackhawk rotated around to the rifle squad’s right, Badger moved away to the left and around the hill, coming around to the Sudanese’ left, and taking up firing now that Scarecrow was clear.

            “Badger, Scarecrow. Start the music. We’re clear.”

            Badger’s Blackhawk was armed with two M240 machine guns which wouldn’t be able to do the damage that Scarecrow’s rockets had, but for the job of keeping Janjaweed mortar team’s head down, they’d be fine.

            “Scarecrow, Badger. Rock and roll!”

            The guns lit up, reaching out for the hillside. He couldn’t see any of the targets he was firing at, but that was part of the point.

Greg Reilly, callsign Badger, formerly of Waterloo, Iowa, spent three years in the cockpit of UH-60s before pulling the trigger of an M240 machine gun on a hillside in western Sudan. Somewhere below his bird, the shells were hitting hardpan, denting it and providing kids later with brass to make into statues that they would sell back to him and his buddies from the 3rd ACR so he could mail them back to his family in the World.

To say, There. This is the Death I spat out from my guns for the first time out here in the middle of nowhere. And you know what? I bought it back from some poor dirt-eater so he could get some iodine pills from the UNICEF folks. But don’t worry, Mom, I won’t tell you that. I won’t mail this to you. I’ll just burn this letter up, and rewrite one to someone else that I care about less than you, who I don’t mind scaring the shit out of. 

“Badger, Scarecrow. I see your boys, they’re up at the top of the hill. You need to stop firing or you’re going to frag ‘em.” He’d been leaning into the trigger slighty, compensating without thinking about it.

“Fuck.” He let off the trigger. “Scarecrow, Badger. I’m clearing out. Have your boys got a radio with them?”

“Badger, Scarecrow. No radio. They’re it. They didn’t seem concerned. I don’t know if you noticed, but they had guns.”


2 Miles East of Haskanita


            “Finally!” Corporal Rada yelled. “I didn’t think that guy would stop!”

            Above Sergeant Major Prem Singh, the American Blackhawk had stopped firing it’s machine guns into the ridge, and shower of rocks and clay was just now lightening up to a fine mist that tasted muddy on his tongue.

            Singh knew how to clear a rocky area, as did the rest of them. They’d done it just a few months before in Kashmir against Muslim rebels. He hit the two nearest troopers on the shoulder. “Rada! Tooey! One grenade each over the ridge on my mark! The rest of you, I want single shots when you see targets. If one of those helicopters comes swinging back to help, I don’t want you shooting through the windshield.” He looked back to see the other rifle squad from the first Blackhawk taking position at the highpoint on their side of the ridge about thirty yards to their left.

            Singh waved his arms until Corporal Geida, who had commanded the first team out, in Scarecrow’s bird, noticed him. Singh held two fingers up, then pushed them in an arc. He then held his hand flat and balled it into a fist twice, slowly. The sign was given: Two grenades over the ridge, then charge.

            He took his position, second from the right in the skirmish line with Corporal Rada on his right.

            “Hit them!”

            The grenades flew, and the riflemen knelt down low, moving to the very top of the ridge. Whump. Whump.

            Singh thought he could hear the other two grenades from Geida’s squad going off as well, but over the sound of the helicopters he wasn’t so sure it wasn’t his imagination. He flicked a thumbs-up to the squad, and charged over the top.

            He immediately knew they were up against Janjaweed militia; the Sudanese Army that they had tangled with weren’t nearly so surly and stupid, but then again, they weren’t normally hopped up on qat like these militia were. When Singh went over the top of the ridge, he immediately saw one man standing straight up with this back to him, holding a mortar tube. He heard screaming off to his right, then a few gunshots.

            The screaming was coming from a militiaman who had been not to far from their own position on the other side of the ridge, holding a pair of binoculars. His back was ripped open from one of the grenades and now one of his squad had put another couple of gunshots into him to finish what the shrapnel had started.

            The mortarman began to turn to his left, raising something in his hand. Singh already had a bead on him and had put three shots into the upper part of his back. The man kept on with his turn, corkscrewing down and falling to his side. Behind him, the mortar tube fell, bouncing down the hill.

            “Two more to the right! Two more to the right!” It was Rada, out on their extreme edge. He had dove behind another out cropping and was pulling out another grenade. “Grenade in the air to the right!”

            Singh saw the spoon pop, and dove. Whump.

            Rada came back up firing. “I can barely see the son of a whore!” The Corporal emptied his clip. “I’m out! Reloading!”

            Singh dropped to his stomach and inched towards him. “Corporal! Don’t you fucking go automatic on me! Keep-” Rada’s head snapped back, his helmet flying off and sailing over Singh. “-your fucking head about you!”

            “No problem, Sergeant Major!” He looked back and smiled. “I got him. You’ll have to toss a banger to finish it.”

            Singh pulled a grenade out of his webbing and yelled. “Squad! Wheel right!” The half-dozen men were already doing it, staying in order while moving to the sound of the guns, fighting more like fighter aircraft in formation than troops in a jungle.

            He pulled the pin, popped the spoon, and tossed the grenade. This one wouldn’t be so easy. Whoever was still alive after Rada emptied an entire clip and a grenade into them would definitely be ready.


            “Let’s go!” The squad rose to a crouch, their rifles at their shoulders. He could hear a low groaning off to the right front, probably the gunman who had shot Rada’s helmet off. How many was that now? The spotter at the top…the man with the mortar tube…this guy…how many did that stupid jeep hold when had to hold a mortar that could reach the camp, too?

            “There!” The call came from his left, further down the line. The man was about thirty yards away, running out into the hardpan. As soon as he heard the Indian yell, he threw his gun away. Evidently, one of the helicopters noticed him as well, since the two Blackhawks were now wheeling out ahead of the man.

            Corporal Geida’s squad completed it’s sweep, joining them on their left. “We’re clear on our side!”

            “Corporal, take a rifleman and go grab that militiaman. We’re going to have to take him in.”

            Geida nodded. “Yes, sir.”

            Singh looked back to Rada, who was up at the top of the slope with the dead spotter’s binoculars pressed to his eyes. “Holy shit, Sergeant. They’re really giving it to ‘em out there. The Boers are mixing it up.”




Command Ratel

Between Haskanita and the Outcropping


            Captain Frans Daalen’s view was obscured slightly by smoke as they drove past the wreck of the first T-55, not that he noticed that much with his head craned out the turret.

            “Hang on, sir!” The 6x6 vehicle swerved sharply to the right, then back to the left again. Daalen’s driver leaned towards the front windshield and cracked his neck. “That turret blew clean off. All this fucking mess is hard to keep track of.”

            They’d seen the dust cloud the Sudanese were kicking up for about ten minutes before they actually saw the vehicles. Daalen identified all the vehicles almost instantly. He’d faced them all before in South-West Africa: 4 T-55s, 6 wheeled BTR-60 APCs, and four jeeps.

            That had left Daalen with a problem. He only had three Ratels, his command Ratel which had a 90mm gun, and the two others with heavy machine guns. So he’d ordered the same thing he’d been ordered to do in South-west Africa. And he was ordering it again.

            “Close on those fucking BTRs! Hose those things! Leave those tanks to us!”

            The other two Ratels had followed his vehicle into the fray, and were now turning in tight circles to keep the Sudanese from closing on the camp. Two of the BTRs had already been punched full of holes from the South Africans’ machine guns.

            “Captain! Get your head in the hole! I’m taking out a jeep!”

            It was Henney Mulder, Daalen’s driver. He could see the Ratel angling towards a jeep that was stopped with a flat tire.

            Shit, thought Daalen. Can we clear that?

            The Ratel continued to accelerate towards the jeep, which was now being vacated by it’s Janjaweed occupants. Well, we’re going to find out. Daalen spotted a BTR to his right, and slew the turret towards it.

            Let’s do it! The turret-mounted machinegun hammered away in his hands, spitting neon tracers towards the enemy vehicle. Within a few seconds, several cigarette marks appeared on the BTR’s side, though it began to turn away from him.

            “Here it comes!”

            The Ratel bucked hard as it rode over the jeep’s back end. Daalen heard a huge crack from the wreck.

            “What the fuck was that?” Yelled  Mulder. “Was that what I thought-“

            Daalen was already looking back at the wrecked jeep, which was now recessed comically in the back. “We broke it’s god-damned axle.” He looked back slowly, slewing turret forward again, and saw their next target ahead. The T-55, it’s own gun turning towards them, had apparently seen them as well.  “Stop! Target! Target! 20 Degrees Right!” The turret was almost right on with no adjustment.

            “HE!” Daalen ordered a High Explosive round loaded into the 90mm gun.

            “Up!” The gunner yelled.


            “On the way!”

            He ducked into the turret and closed the hatch as the cannon barked. When the shot left the tube, his eyes were closed as they had always been since those early days in the 80s when he was fighting in the Bush War. “Henney? How is it?”

            “Fucking got the fucker! Fucking got the fucker!” His driver yelled ecstatically.

            When he opened the hatch, he saw the tank’s rear fuel tank on fire, spewing greasy smoke into the air. The other two T-55s were burning now, as well. What the hell’s going on?

            Then the missile came down from the sky, and he saw the Mi-17 make another run. “The Indians! Finally made a god damn entrance!”

            There were three of the helicopters making low passes across the barren landscape, breaking up the armoured vehicles, taking the pressure of his Ratels. Daalen turned on his intercom.

            “Good job, everybody.” He leaned his helmeted head against the butt of the machine-gun. “Keep a muzzle on the targets. Stay clear. I don’t want the Indians to hit us.”

            Ahead of him, one of the Hips sailed through the sky at a forward slant. It was making a gun run, raking a retreating BTR with machine gun fire. It’s right side tires punctured, the vehicle braked hard, almost flipping before powersliding to a stop.

            “Fuck me, but those Indians have got good aim.”


            2 Miles East of Haskanita

            On the Outcropping


            Singh and Rada could make out the Hips from their own country’s Air Force well as they made their gun runs. One almost landed on a jeep, then kept hovering low in the fray, almost at the level of the South African armoured vehicles.

            The other two had exhausted their rocket pods after the first minute, but were still doing what they could with their machine guns. Hatches on the two surviving BTRs were popping open and men were running out and dropping to the ground with their hands in the air.

            Rada offered his hand to his sergeant. “Well, sergeant, good work today. I don’t think we could’ve done better with what he had.”

            “Sir! Sir!” It was Geida, running back up the hill from the direction of the abandoned Sudanese jeep. Singh could see at least a half dozen troops surrounding the jeep. “Sir, you’ve got to see this.”


            UH-60 Blackhawk

            2 miles north of UNAMITS HQ

Al Fashir, Shamal Darfur, Sudan


            Captain Greg Reilly, callsign Badger, kept glancing back over his shoulder at the Indian rifle squad and their guest in his bird. While the South Africans and other newly arrived Hips had stayed behind to arrange transporting the Janjaweed militiamen into custody, they’d very forcefully wanted this one to come with them.

            “So what’s the deal? Who is this guy? Is he on a deck of cards I haven’t seen, or something?”

            The Indian troopers didn’t respond, but their Sergeant did tap him on the shoulder and motion to a piece of plastic, glass, and metal masking on the militiaman’s belt, tied on with rope.

            Reilly turned back, and muttered to himself. “This is just fucking nuts.”

            “Badger, Scarecrow. What was that?” The call came in from the second Blackhawk, flying above and slightly to his left.

            “Scarecrow, Badger. Nothing. False signal. I’m gonna need to be priority for the LZ.”

            “Copy that, Badger.”

            Reilly flipped his radio to the command channel for the UNAMITS HQ, just coming into view through the haze of the Darfur hardpan.


            UNAMITS HQ

            Al Fashir, Shamal Darfur, Sudan


            “Badger, say again?” Lieutenant Andrew Shepard, Canadian Forces, had thought he’d heard some very dreaded words in the last radio transmission from the American Blackhawk.

            “UNAMITS HQ, this is Badger. I am taking priority to the LZ. I want a HAZMAT crew there as soon as possible. I may have chemical weapons on board.”

            Shepard shook his head. “Damn.” He pressed the transmit button on the radio. “Copy that, Badger. Make two passes of the LZ, then land. We’re getting the HAZMAT team out there, now.”

            “Copy that, HQ.”

            They didn’t have a HAZMAT team. The closest thing they had was the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART. They were trained for rebuilding after earthquakes and famines, but they were pretty much the only people in the UNAMITS force he could think of that would be able to bend their training to this.

            As the Blackhawk came in for it’s first circle, Shepard ran out of the radio shack and jumped in a jeep outside for the quick drive across the small town to the Canadian contingent headquarters.

            At the gate outside, he was stopped by two men in decidedly ethnic garb, who seemed quite hostile until he waved his card and they got a good look at his faded uniform.

            In the driveway outside the two story stucco house sat a jeep idling with half a dozen men and women standing around it loading gear into it. Obviously they’d been listening to the radio.

            The woman by the driver’s side front walked briskly to Shepard’s jeep. “Andy! So what’s the scoop? They think there’s a chemical weapon they found out there? We’ve been on the horn with the South Africans that are still there. They say the weapon was an 81mm mortar. Basic Soviet-bloc manufacture. Everyone and their mother’s got them.”

            Shepard nodded, relieved someone else was actually getting on top of this situation besides him. “Can you guys handle this? You’re pretty much all we’ve got.”

            “Yeah. We’re fine. We’ve redirected the Blackhawk to land on the football field. We’ve got a tent we’re taking out there. First thing we need you to do is get on the horn to the Americans at the 3rd ACR and tell them that they need to get some folks over there who can get their helicopter’s rotors off, because we can’t fit our tent over all four of them.” She nodded, shook his hand, then walked back to the jeep. “Andy, I’ll see you at the soccer field. This is gonna be easy as pie. Don’t you worry about it!”


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