Friday, September 16, 2011

Rapid Reaction

I know, I've been slacking on posts and photos. I don't want to use wikimedia commons anymore because it takes too long to load. Anyway, a short story of a theoretical near future:

The helicopter came in low. Cary looked around nervously at his comrades. The eight members of the UN Permanent Peacekeeping Program (PPP) unit were dropping into a rapidly escalating conflict. Word of hundreds of thousands of religious minority Turks fleeing their homes had reached the Security Council. With a unanimous vote, fourteen PPP units were dispatched to secure refugee camps while a more substantial Peacekeeping mission was organized. Cary's unit was assigned to the most dangerous position. Just outside the city limits of Istanbul, the unit was to secure a 'refugee safe point' for all those fleeing the dense city.

It would be an array of tents where the Red Cross had already set-up shop to quickly examine and document those fleeing while providing temporary food and aid until a convoy of transportation vehicles would whisk civilians out of the country to permanent refugee camps.

This was also an unprecedented mission. In previous engagements the PPP was given a mission along borders or within war-torn areas, but never in a fashion such as this. The escalation of violence in the region had happened so rapidly and on such a scale that the Security Council had authorized a break from normal policy. There would be a partisan condemnation of the government's actions and the immediate evacuation of at-risk civilians. Fleets were already amassing and NATO along with the Southern and Central Asian Peacekeeping Organization (SCAPO) was preparing a multi-tiered negotiation of hostilities with the Turkish Government. Diplomatic channels were being used to try to quell the conflict but each hour made the sanctions and use of full-on military force a more real possibility.

Cary checked his gun again. A PPP soldier was issued a standard Navy Blue uniform with a UN PPP badge on it and a bright blue reflective band on both shoulders. Their helmets deviated from the standard of other UN Peacekeeping forces. They were practical military arrangements, with ranks on the left side of the helmet in UN blue. Other than that they were double insulated and equipped with night vision goggles. A UN PPP soldier was not supposed to engage any hostile without reason and followed most of the same protocols as traditional forces. The big difference came in their permanency and free-exercise of discretion.

Ten years previous, the UN had authorized the creation of the PPP as a permanent standing force to rapidly react to developing conflicts. The small funding meant that there was little equipment beyond training to ensure the PPP's success. But they were trained well. They were trained as an elite unit on par with the best in the world and given the same discretion as those units. Their mission parameters were the main dictators of what kind of discretion was warranted. Similarly it was hard to serve time for war-induced violations of engagement, but this came at a severe cost on other matters. A PPP soldier could serve 5 years in solitary for lewd conduct in or out of uniform, and up to 75 years for any form of sexual crime. Non-conflict violent crimes, committed under any banner, were punishable with life imprisonment. Military tribunals set-up under the authority of the ICC and its governing treaties meant that justice would be swift for soldiers caught tarnishing the reputation of UN or its PPP forces.

Cary knew the drop was going to be hard. Reports had the Turkish army setting up anti-aircraft batteries near the city. Fire could get heavy as they dropped into the small suburb outside the city. It was dusk, and Cary could see the lights of Istanbul blinking on. He smelled the salt and desert air.

The rise of the Islamist government to power in Turkey meant that moderate Muslims along with Christians, Jews, and Sikhs, had all been forced to run for their lives. The fairly strong infrastructure of the country meant that the Red Cross had been able to provide aid quickly, but that didn't stop the government from getting in the way. Reports of 6 Red Cross workers killed at a checkpoint while trying to obtain access to those in need had prompted the security council to vote. Despite the political pressure to not take action, it was a rare instance where Russia, China, and the US all came forward to condemn the actions of the Turkish government. The US president even made the rare argument against its unilateral policies and implored world governments to take action. The EU, even in its diminished capacity had quickly delivered millions of dollars of aid to the border.

Cary's PPP unit was the only one to cross into the sovereign nation of Turkey. If a resolution for escalation was rejected by the general assembly, it could stay that way. Cary flicked the safety on and off on his gun mindlessly, they were going to drop in uninvited without any support. They had forty-eight hours and a general assembly vote to make it through for their mission to be successful. And despite the unprecedented nature of the cooperation between nations, he didn't believe his luck was that good.

“Unit Alpha we are coming into the drop zone, you have thirty seconds to make your descent. New satellite feed has four batteries that may fire on us,” Cary listened to his comm intently and took a look at his team once again. They were going to drop, and hopefully make it out. The sun burst into a brilliant orange, tinting everything a pleasant color, Cary savored the moment.

Break---

The helicopter swerved away and messaged a good luck to the unit. Cary checked his equipment and looked at Sgt. Mathers. Mathers gave a hand signal to head out toward the Red Cross camp. The unit silently moved forward, passing a farmer and his goats. The man regarded them quietly and moved on; the conflict had not reached out here, but it soon would. They passed over a ridge and saw the camp on the edge of a small town. The PPP unit walked into the camp and met a Red Cross officer.

“Hi, it's nice to see we can feel safe,” a middle-aged Turkish man with vivid green eyes looked at the unit, “we have been waiting for you. I have bad news, this camp is not safe, I don't think. I have been looking all day and the uneasy neighbors make me think we could get very hurt here.”

Sgt. Mathers pulled off his helmet, “what do you suggest then? We've looked at the landscape and this seems good.”

“Not good enough. I have been told the government building is safe; it is also a mosque. There is a square in the front and lots of buildings behind it make it impossible to attack from behind.”

“Ok, and locals?”

“This is a liberal town, they would protest but they would be refugees too you see.”

Sgt. Mathers nodded and looked around at the camp, “how long will it take to relocate?”

“We have already started. I think there will be a new camp in forty minutes. You should move your men here,” the Turkish man pointed to a point on the map. The Sergeant nodded and signaled his men to move out again.

Cary re-secured his helmet and headed for the square. The Turk was right, approach was almost impossible except through the front. A small tent with the Red Cross logo on it stood out front. A line of people was being quickly processed to enter. Red Cross nurses were handing out water and bread, while trying to see if anyone needed medical attention. It looked like a slow motion state of panic. Everyone was quietly taking in their bread and water while the tension buzzed with the crickets. Cary gripped his rifle tightly. Things could turn quickly. The sun slipped below the horizon, long shadows melted into surrounding darkness.

The Turk came by and spoke to Sgt. Mathers, “I have gotten word of a mass exodus tonight, people will be moving in the darkness. Some know to come by here,” the Turk cocked his head slightly as if to relieve tension in it, “be ready."

Sgt. Mathers knew what that meant, he turned to his unit, “I want two men in the minaret, three at the tent, and two at the entrance with me. Double-check your gear, I don't want any misfires or jams.”

The stars came out slowly; stark points of light on the endless sky. Cary stood at the entrance to the large hall; he looked at the now empty square. Sgt. Mathers walked by, “central says they are reading military activity in the hills behind us. They are holding. Sats also picked up several masses moving toward our position. I assume it's a party of refugees. Numbers are in the thousands.”

Cary held his breath, the hall was going to be packed. The open design of the mosque meant that people could easily be hurt if the building were to take significant artillery fire. The refugees came quietly. Their fear was palpable. They smelled like sweat and the desert. Cary saw what they had; sacks of clothes and food, the most precious heirlooms that they could carry. A lifetime is not lightweight.

“This is Alpha one, I have a lock on movement about a half click out,” Cary heard private Patel over his ear-piece. Privates Patel and Jackson were in the tower keeping watch on the mosque and its temporary residents, “looks like refugees. Sir?”

“Keep an eye, tell me when you get a number.”

“Several hundred at least. This is pretty bad stuff sir. Can we fit them?”

“Let's hope,” Sgt. Mathers shrugged his shoulders heavily. They came in droves. There wasn't even time for processing. The night had cooled off significantly and there was a slight breeze. The Red Cross handed out all their blankets and then all of their food. There was almost no water by the time the refugees had passed. It was packed, people pushed against each other and struggled to navigate the makeshift maze of bodies and blankets. It was weirdly quiet. People spoke in hushed tones but no one dared raise it above a whisper. Cary was put on inside patrol. He was the only authority inside the mosque aside from the Red Cross officers—three of which were asleep. He crouched down in a corner and lit a cigarette. The sky had become black and the streets were quiet, he could hear a cat wander the rooftops silently.

Cary took a quick drag and looked around; the people were settling in, ready to sleep. A man got up to use the bathroom, bowing slightly as he passed Cary. There were three couples with young children that had been put in the back rooms to keep everyone from being bothered. It was probably the only time that such an accommodation could be managed. The refugee camps were squalid and dirty; it was barely above an animal pen. Cary put out his cigarette and looked at the minaret; a tower that extended toward the sky, there to call a town to prayer. He thought about the church steeples in his hometown; how similar they were to the minaret.

The moment was shattered by a gun shot. A large caliber automatic rifle. A scream and then the wailing of a child. “Corridor, where the children are, I'm here!” Cary yelled into his ear piece. He flipped the safety on his rifle, took a brief check of his position and swung through the doorway. He was horrified, he saw the man who had gone to the bathroom, standing at the head of the room pointing a rifle at the terrified families. Cary knew the rules of engagement, he yelled at the man in Turkish to put down the gun. The man turned to him, aiming the rifle squarely at Cary.

Cary's heart stopped momentarily as the first bullet whizzed by his ear, he felt the plaster from the wall hit the back of his head. He felt his finger depress the trigger and place a bullet in the man's chest. He kept his weapon pointed, “I need medical, three wounded, I'm all right though.”

He ran quickly to a woman covered in blood, she waved him off, screaming in Kurdish, “my son! My son!” Cary only knew a little bit of Kurdish, but it was enough. He turned quickly to a boy, maybe two years old, and searched for wounds. The boy had been shot in the abdomen and was bleeding profusely. Cary held back a shudder and tried to stanch the bleeding. He heard footsteps as his the sergeant and private morales entered with several Red Cross workers. A nurse came by to help Cary; she checked the boy's pulse and told Cary what he already knew. She shook her head slowly and pushed Cary's hands away gently. Cary looked at the mother, the blood on her clothes wasn't hers. Another nurse was checking on the man Cary had shot.

Unit Alpha had been trained for the exhausting marathon nights. They knew that they were massively outnumbered; in a worst-case scenario it could be as much as two thousand to one. Elite training was no guarantee of success under odds of that magnitude. They had already experienced the first taste of the battle's personality and were wary of the desperation and hate that pervaded the hard-liners' viewpoints.

“I am ordering a basic search of all incoming refugees; no one gets into this compound without being cleared for security. Private Gould you will instruct these Red Cross workers on how to perform a basic pat-down and gear search. Got it?” Sgt. Mathers turned his face to Cary. Even in the darkness, the sergeant's intense stare seemed to penetrate Cary. Cary nodded.

Cary went to the gathered Red Cross workers. He showed them the procedure for a pat-down and assured them that someone would be watching at all times to keep them safe. The Red Cross workers were worried and unsure but seemed to understand the process easily. Satisfied, Cary went back to the entrance to report in.

“I'm getting increased movement. I think the Turks will try to bombard us. They know this might be their only chance to keep a full-blown military intervention from happening.”

“What's going to happen sir?”

“It's a gamble, if they show too little force and we die, NATO and SCAPO might start firing missiles, and send in troops for a full-blown peacekeeping occupation. If they show too much force and we die, they might get the UN to back-down but create a civil war in the process. If they do it right, killing us and just enough political dissidents without disturbing the main population, then they can stay in power and keep their hard-line government without international intervention.”

“How's it looking for us, sir?” Cary was afraid to ask.

Sgt. Mathers stretched, “well, it looks like either way we aren't coming out alive. But that's good politically for the PPP department. They need some good poster-children,” he yawned and cracked his neck, “didn't you want to be on a poster?”

“I hope you are joking sir.”

“So do I.”

break---

Private Cary Gould woke from sleep, the morning call to prayer rang out from the minaret. He smiled at the thought of privates Patel and Jackson waking with a start to the call blasting out their ears. A light dew had settled on his equipment. The gray of the early morning made him shudder. He looked over at the sergeant.

“Looks like a small tank unit and infantry. Enough force to kill us many times over, but not enough to destroy this town,” Sgt. Mathers looked out at the square. Red Cross workers were already setting up, getting ready for another day of tense relief work.

Cary heard the buzz of a plane overhead, he recognized the familiar sound of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle—a UAV. They were practically silent now, able to fly low and keep a good trace on all movement around them.

“Command says NATO has approved limited air support. We get UAVs and any firepower on them plus a French destroyer is in range to cover us in case of full-scale war. As always, the rules of engagement apply,” Sgt. Mathers said the last part bitterly. He knew that their mission was effectively nil without an act of aggression against PPP units. They could only stand and defend the Red Cross workers in the case of a violent clash.

Cary saw the pink of the early dawn color the tops of the houses, it would soon be a warm day. Cary breathed in the morning dew. He could taste the rich history of the land, and lamented the circumstances under which he visited the land. He stretched out the morning cold and sharpened his mind to the day ahead, “do you hear that sir?”

Cary had stopped mid-stretch. He thought he had heard something. Then, over his ear-piece it was Patel, “I have visual on conflict. Gunshots at two clicks southeast. Sir, they are being surrounded.”

Cary was shocked, the normally reverent army was attacking during prayer time just to corner and kill refugees. The hard-line Muslims spoke of jihad in terms of religious conflict, yet failed to follow the basic tenets of their religion. It was obvious to him that their rhetoric was a sham.

Private Patel spoke again, “sir, can we do something? I have a clear shot. The refugees are completely surrounded. They are being lined up. Sir, it's going to be a firing squad.”

“Hold your fire,” Sgt. Mathers spoke through gritted teeth. He knew a couple things: one, that Patel was a good enough shot to pick off people at two kilometers, and two that it would be a huge violation and further security risk if he were to authorize the shot.

“Sir, please, they are walking down the line, picking people off,” Patel was obviously struggling.

“You know the rules. We're stuck,” the sergeant sounded more that a little conflicted, but he had to think about the mission and its successful completion. Firing on the Turks could direct them to their location, risking thousands more lives, “I'm sorry.”

“Sir, some are running. They're escaping. The army has opened fire on the rest of the group. The runners got away. Everyone else is down,” Patel's voice faded.

“See if you can get a position on the runners. Are they headed here?”

“No luck sir, they disappeared behind a ridge. I can't tell where they went.”

The rest of the day went by uneventfully. The square filled with some people, the town moved sluggishly. They saw the coming storm and steered clear of the conflict as best they could. A couple of men came to the mosque to pray but were turned away. Cary got some more sleep; he savored his sparse rations, knowing that the refugees had little to eat. He handed out a K ration to a family. It was the last he had.

Just after sundown Jackson spoke over the radio, “Sir, we have significant movement about three clicks out. It looks like a large group of refugees.”

“I just got satellite confirmation on that one. Alpha unit, prepare for incoming. Patel, do you have a clear line of sight on that main road into the square?”

“There's a deep shadow that obscures my vision on the far edge, but shy of an entire army trying to come through there, I have a clear view.”

“Good, here's the plan, I want Gould and Coos to take a position at the corner right before the second line of buildings. You two will not give away your positions under any circumstances but will report all incoming, got it?”

Cary nodded at the sergeant. He grabbed Private Coos and found a good view around the corner of the corridor. They waited as it started to get darker. Cary then heard the shuffling of feet. He peeked his head around the corner and saw a lanky figure stumbling down the road. It was a child, maybe ten years old, hobbling quickly toward the plaza. The child was bleeding from his arm which hung limply at his side. Cary could hear him screaming for his mother in Kurdish. Soon more people trickled into the city center; the Red Cross struggled to administer aid quickly. Many were wounded and all cried about a military ambush outside the town.

Patel and Jackson confirmed that there were roaming patrols of soldiers looking to capture anyone running away. The mosque was packed. The Red Cross had set to opening their tents in the plaza, unable to fit all the refugees in the building.

Cary looked at Coos, “how many more do you think there are?” Coos shrugged.

Over his ear piece, Jackson spoke, “patrols have found us, they are headed into the town.”

“Maintain your cool, hopefully they will respect the Red Cross, and our mission. Hold your fire all,” Sgt. Mathers said over the radio. A small patrol of five soldiers walked down the main road toward the plaza, Cary watched them slowly as they passed his position without noticing him or Coos. The Turk running the Red Cross station approached them with his hands out. Cary could hear him speaking to them.

Coos nudged Cary and whispered, “what're they saying?”

Cary strained to hear, “the Turk is saying that he is with the Red Cross. That they should leave unless they need medical attention. That they are welcome as long as they put down their weapons.” Cary heard the raised pitch of one of the soldiers, “they say he's holding insurgents. Infidels and criminals. They are asking the Turk to turn them over,” Cary realized he had been gripping his neck strap anxiously and relaxed his grip, “they are threatening the army.” Cary watched the Turk wave his hands gently.

Over the comm, he heard Patel's voice, “I have a clear shot, sir.”

Cary whispered to Coos, “The Turk says they do not take sides, only aid those in need. He is asking them to leave if they wish to cause harm. They pointed the gun at him. Sir?” Cary spoke into the radio, he noticed Sgt. Mathers making a slow approach toward the group with his gun at his side and his hands out forward, exposed. The soldiers took his approach warily, aiming their guns at him.

Cary heard the sergeant's voice over the radio, “if I say Jihad, you are all cleared to fire. Do not shoot to kill, if you can, clear?” Several hushed yes sirs came through on the ear piece. Then Cary heard Sgt. Mathers speak to the soldiers in Turkish, “Leave if you do not need assistance, we are here for peace. Your guns have no place here.” The sergeant had a poor accent, probably because he spoke the pastoral Persian of Afghanistan much more fluently. It made him sound unrefined to Turkish sensibilities, a problem in a situation as tense as this one.

The soldiers took the statement as a threat and spoke back, “you have treasonous war criminals here, we demand to take them so they may answer in a court for their crimes.”

“Your guns are not a fair trial. Leave, I am authorized to defend this place from attack.”

“Stupid Pashtun goatherd, you have criminals against Islam, give them to us.” The leader signaled to the other soldiers and they took aim.

“Put down your guns, I am warning you one last time,” Sgt. Mathers kept his voice steady.

The leader signaled two of the soldiers to head toward the camp, “you are a criminal too if you do not help us.”

The sergeant spoke sternly and clearly so the unit could hear on their ear pieces, “there is no place here for your Jihad.” Seven gunshots rang out almost simultaneously. Four soldiers fell and one dove out of the way, he swung his gun to fire at the Turk, but Sgt. Mathers got to his sidearm first. With one shot, the soldier went limp. The sergeant got on the radio, “Hold position except Nguyen and Howard, get medical, it looks like we have three captives.” The sergeant kicked away their guns and held the wound of the soldier that was bleeding the most.