Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Beginning to think seriously about cutting and running, the east wind blowing down the Pamir Valley “talked” to him with a faint thrumming sound. He knew immediately it was a helicopter, probably an MI-24, what the Americans called a Hind, one of the world’s deadliest aircraft, likely from the Russian border base at the far end of Lake Zorkul.
So that’s why they wanted to keep me pinned down!
If there was any chance of prevailing against the remaining shooters – there was now no doubt these were Russian troops, maybe special forces – he had zero option against a Hind’s twin Gatling guns and racks of deadly rockets.
Jesus Christ, these bastards really do want me. A frightening thought, yet one offering at least a brief sense of satisfaction at being such a thorn in their side.
But it meant it was time to get the hell out, something a sniper finds hard to do. He put into motion his last resort exit gambit.
Pushing the gun further out from between the rocks – which is, of course, a big no-no for snipers; you never expose your weapon! – he squeezed off the last few rounds in the magazine in quick succession, hoping to give the enemy the impression he’d become desperate, panicked. A hail of return fire pinged off the rocks all around, the multiple echoes against the valley walls making it sound like a fierce firefight.
A couple seconds later he pushed the Barrett over the edge, followed by his Kevlar helmet, both clattering on the rocks as they bounced down into the gulch. Then he squeezed six-ounces of fake blood from a miniature version of a ketchup bottle along the edge of the gulch, leaving a visible stain.
The hope was the shooters might hesitate, wonder, be confused: Did we get him?
In the thirty seconds it took to execute the deception, the thwap-thwap of the helicopters – helicopters? Yes, it was now clear there were two – drew closer. He had at best three, or if lucky four minutes before they were on him.
Rolling to the back of the ledge, he retrieved his backpack and in a crouched position sprinted north, toward the head of the gulch, away from the river and the helicopters.
This is where the opponent’s up-angle position was an advantage; he was counting on them not being able to see him behind the lip of the ledge. His hopes were lifted when shots continued to ping off the rocks near where he had been hiding only a moment ago. He ran as fast as he could being careful not to stumble – a twisted ankle now would be almost as bad as his head being taken off by one of the shooters.
The hide had been at the south end of the ledge, the Pamir River gorge immediately to the left. The ledge, roughly thirty feet wide, ran for several hundred yards away from the river, narrowing at the north end until it dead ended against the mountainside. But it was the only available avenue to easily and quickly put as much distance as possible between himself and his former position without being exposed.
The seconds slipped into a couple of minutes; he knew he was eating up space; there was a glimmer of hope. As he ran, he kept an eye out for possible cover to dive into or hunker down behind; he would need it soon.
The distance grew; close to four-hundred yards now…
But sooner than expected the first giant helicopter emerged into the open, he could tell by the sudden roar of the copter’s big engine.
He didn’t pause to look back, though, hoping they would still be fixated on his former hide rather than checking several hundred yards up the ledge; maybe it would be enough.
At first, he was confused when the sound of the helicopter seemed to pass behind, moving further down the Pamir River valley. But when the engine pitch whined-up, it was clear they were just swinging around to fire on his presumed position from the front, rather than the side.
He was pretty sure they wouldn’t bother with the Gatling guns, why waste the ammunition? Instead, they would obliterate him by sending a couple of rockets screaming into the mountainside.
It turned out they’d done him a big favor, although they didn’t know it, with those extra few seconds to sprint another fifty yards.
But knowing time had run out, he dove into the only cover available, a shallow swale a dozen feet long and a couple of feet deep up against the mountainside.
He rolled onto his stomach and pushed the backpack above his head, between himself and the old hide, hoping it might be a protective substitute for the now missing Kevlar helmet.
He did not need to peek up to know what was happening. He heard four whooshing sounds followed almost immediately by four thunderous explosions so close together it was like one huge blast.
The ground shook under him. A hot pressure wave washed over him, nearly dislodging the heavy backpack. There was a deep grumble as a big chunk of the ledge slid down into the gorge.
He felt a hail of rocks raining down, like baseballs someone was throwing as hard as they could. He waited, expecting any moment for a watermelon-size chunk to crack his skull or smash a leg. If it was going to happen, the quickness of the first option was preferred.
Next: Stealth and Evasion
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