Snippet Four, Alone and Unafraid

“You know,” Black said as I walked into his small room/cell, “if you’d taken me along it could have worked out a lot simpler. I could have gotten us in as Project contractors, then we could have either started schwacking ‘em from the inside, or walked out if it was too hot. You guys keep up this kinetic door-kicking shit and there aren’t going to be many of you left before long.”

I studied him impassively. Unfortunately, he had a point. I just hated to hear it from a guy who had been paid to support our sworn enemies. “What’s your deal, Black?” I asked. “We capture you fighting with ISIS, but now you want to be all buddy-buddy?”

He spread his hands. “Put yourself in my shoes. Not only do I finally get offered work—and you guys should know how hard that is to come by these days—but it’s a chance to deal some hurt to some real bad guys. We got to see some really scary shit intel-wise about what the IRGC is up to. Hezbollah moving CBRN materials into the US from Mexico, nuclear and missile deals with not only North Korea but the Russians and Chinese, too…it’s getting pretty hairy, man. I know you guys know this just as well as I do, otherwise you wouldn’t have sided with Al Hakim.

“But when we get here, we get thrown in with ‘militias’ that are pretty obviously Al Qaeda or similar Salafist jihadis. Collins denied it at first, but finally just answered our concerns with ‘shut up and do what you’re told, or I’ll leave you to them.’ I want that fucker’s head on a plate just as bad as you do. Getting captured was the best thing that’s happened to me since I set foot in this shithole, and that includes if you shoot me in the head and bury me in a shallow grave.”

I just looked at him with narrowed eyes for a moment. “What about the rest?” I finally asked. “How many other Project personnel feel the same as you do?”

He shrugged uneasily. “Not as many as you might hope. He vetted most of us pretty well; he found the guys who didn’t give a fuck, but just wanted to kill shit. Sunni, Shi’a, whoever, doesn’t matter a fucking bit to them. They get to run and gun and kill motherfuckers, and they’re happy. Some of them would probably think twice about trying to take you guys out, but some of them…they really don’t give a flying fuck. There are probably a dozen like me who got trapped and don’t know how to get out.”

He must have read the skepticism in my expression. “Look, I know you guys aren’t the most trusting bunch.” That drew a snort. “From what little I’ve been able to see, you don’t even trust Al Hakim.”

“This is a tribal part of the world,” I said. “Trust outside your own tribe, and you’re asking to get burned. And by ‘burned,’ I mean beheaded on the fucking internet.” I cut the conversation short by tossing the handful of photos of the dead men in the target house in front of him. “Any of these look familiar?”

With a shrug, he dropped the conversation and picked up the photos. “That’s Abu Tariq, all right.” He shuffled through three more. “Don’t know any of these guys.” He stopped at the fourth. “Holy shit.” He held up the photo, of a man in his thirties, with a longer beard and no mustache. “This looks like Abdul Suleyman Nazari. He’s a Syrian, was part of the Jabhaat al Islamiya; a rather notorious member, actually. He was part of the assault team that almost took out Assad just before the Spetsnaz whisked him away. They say the guy’s killed over a hundred people by himself. He’s a serious bad guy.”

“Assuming that’s him,” I said dryly, “he was a serious bad guy.”

He nodded. “Point taken. If it really is him, this is quite a coup. You should publicize it.”

I just raised an eyebrow.

“Or not.” He sighed. “I’m not saying publicize that it was you guys who did it. But if you’re going to be running an insurgency against an insurgency, at least Al Hakim’s people need to be putting out the word about what they’re accomplishing, even if it’s you guys who do the real killing. It’s IO, man. You should know this.”

“And Information Operations worked oh so well here the last time around,” I retorted. “And in Afghanistan. And in Libya.”

“Just saying,” he said. “It did wonders for Ahrar al Sham, and then the Islamic Front after it, in Syria. It’s a tool, that’s all I’m saying.”

I didn’t say anything more as he perused the rest of the pictures. Finally, he dropped them on the cot and shook his head. “Nobody else of consequence, at least that I know of or have crossed paths with. This one”—he tapped one of the last photos—“is Abu Tariq’s cousin, the guy who owns the house. I’m guessing the rest are family members and security goons.”

I gathered the photos up and started for the door. We’d definitely run them past some of our allies/clients, to see if anyone recognized them. As helpful as he was trying to be, even without his baggage Black was a single source, and we’d learned a long time ago not to rely on single-source reporting. A single-source based raid in Kismayo, Somalia had killed three of us because the source turned out to be playing for the other team.

“Stone,” Black called just before I closed the door, “think about what I said. I can get you close to these motherfuckers.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said, and shut the door.

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