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Authors: Richard Herman

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BOOK: Force of Eagles
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Finally, he could no longer endure the waiting and called his control center to explain the developing situation. After acknowledging the call, there was silence from his superior, a sure sign that the officer did not want to hear about it. Then the four returns materialized on the scope as the aircraft turned on their IFFs and climbed to altitude, still inside Turkey. Reluctantly, he reported the latest developments. “You are deaf,” the officer finally said, “and cannot learn. Forty-eight hours on duty should teach you something. You will be replaced Thursday at noon.” He broke the connection.

The operator swore at his own rashness in calling the control center, turned the receiver-gain to a lower setting, raised the antenna tilt to sweep the far horizon, and walked to a bunk in the far corner to find some warmth and sleep. He glanced at his watch and calculated he had another forty-two hours before he would be relieved.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 35: D-Day

 

The Pentagon

Colonel Richard Stevens glanced at one of the master clocks above the main situation board in the command center—0012—twelve minutes after midnight local time. He had been on duty since six o’clock the previous morning and was dog-tired. He tried to shrug off his fatigue and finish setting up the Military Command Center for the coming operation. Normally the Joint Special Operations Agency would have handled the drill since JSOA commanded all special operations. But Cunningham had asked him to oversee it and try to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.

Stevens had to admit that General Mado seemed to have thought of everything. The thick briefing books that detailed Operation WARLORD were ready, one for each position in the command center. Every relevant fact, including the names of the raiders, was listed in the books. Mado added a question-and-answer section to the back of each book, trying to anticipate questions the President or another heavy might ask. Mado had even developed the checklist he was using for setting up the command center.

It was going to be a long day.

“When was the master clock last set?” Stevens asked the sergeant trailing around after him.

“I hacked it with WWV at Fort Collins at twenty hundred hours last night. It was right on, Colonel. Keeps damn good time. Almost as accurate as the cesium dock WWV uses.”

“What about the mission clock?” Stevens pointed at the digital clock underneath the master clock labeled “H-hour Plus.”

“I ran it for an hour when I checked the master. Perfect.”

A major interrupted them and handed Stevens a folder. “Two messages from Task Force Alpha,” he said.

Stevens signed for the messages and sat down to read them while the sergeant went off to get some coffee. “God,” Stevens muttered, “what the hell is going on?” The first message was from Mado explaining that the wrong munitions had been shipped to Incirlik and that an emergency shipment of the GBU-12s needed for the mission would have to be cleared through the Turkish government. Such hasty action would likely draw attention, might compromise the mission and could possibly jeopardize the status of the base with the Turks. Mado was putting the whole problem right in the lap of the command center.

Which, Stevens thought, meant Task Force Alpha was on a hold status as far as the mission was concerned. He turned to the second message from Stansell, which asked twelve GBU-12s at RAF Stonewood be released to Lieutenant Colonel Doucette for immediate upload on an F-111. The bombs would be ferried to Incirlik as part of Task Force Alpha’s deployment package. There was no mention of coordination with the Turks.

The colonel glanced at the master clock, then back to the messages. They were running out of time. The weapons had to be ready for immediate upload when the F-111 landed. He didn’t have time to go to Cunningham’s quarters, wake the general, explain the situation, get an okay and a message sent to Stonewood in time to make it all happen. He decided he would respond to Stansell’s request and show the messages to Cunningham when he came in. Maybe the bombs would be in Turkey by then…

Stevens drafted a flash message to Stonewood, in Cunningham’s name releasing the munitions being built up for immediate upload. “Loose cannons get their peckers smashed for making decisions like this without authorization,” he muttered, telling himself that his wife could see him any time she wanted when he was in Leavenworth prison.

*

 

Maragheh, Iran

 

The radar operator kicked off his blanket and stretched, feeling rested after sleeping. He ambled over to his station to check the scope, and was startled to see it was blank. He looked over his shoulder…were the other men aware of the problem? No, they were asleep. He sat down, and put on his headset while he checked the voltage. Another power surge had kicked in the automatic protection circuits and had shut the set down.

It was easily fixed and no one was the wiser, he decided as he ran through the restart procedure. Only this time, the circuits would not reset. He was going through his checklist when the control center called. “Radio check,” his superior’s voice ordered.

“Acknowledged,” the operator promptly answered.

“Any questions on reporting procedures?” the officer asked.

“None, sir.” The officer broke the connection. So, you’re going to disappear for a while, the operator thought, probably to be with your mistress. All the men knew about the ugly woman the officer kept near the control center and often joked about it since he had a beautiful wife. No accounting for taste. He closed his checklist, made sure the antenna was still rotating in case anyone should scan the radar site with binoculars, and turned off the set. “Let it cool down,” he grumbled as he picked up a newspaper he had not yet read.

*

 

The Pentagon

 

Cunningham’s fingers beat a tattoo as he read the two messages from Task Force Alpha. “Current status?” he asked, looking directly at his aide. The inner tension that had been twisting Stevens’ stomach eased a bit. He had been fairly certain that Cunningham would approve of his releasing the bombs for movement to Turkey, but like the rest of the staff at the Pentagon, he was never certain about the general, who liked to keep people off balance.

“The GBU-12s are enroute to Incirlik and should arrive there in four hours.”

“Good enough. Put these in the message file. Make sure Leachmeyer sees them about the time the GBUs arrive. Overtaken by events.” Both men were playing the time-honored games the Pentagon’s bureaucracy engaged in. Cunningham was pleased with the way his aide had not hesitated and had done what was necessary. Too many of his officers would have started asking irrelevant questions, trying to fix blame, telling everyone that the snafu was not their fault. He would worry whose fault it was later. “What’s on the agenda for today?”

“Battle Staff briefing at 0800 hours. Kicks off with an intelligence update.”

“Who’s running the show?”

“JOSA. General Leachmeyer has command.” The aide regretted adding the last as he said it. Cunningham hated being told the obvious.

“Dick, I’m not senile yet,” the general said, going easy on the colonel, who had been on duty for over twenty-four hours. “I’ve got a problem, though. Leachmeyer is still chomping at the old bit and wants Delta Force to take the mission. He’s a good man but suffers from tunnel vision. I’ve got to convince him
we’ve
run out of time and need to act
now
.

A slight smile worked at the corner of Stevens’ mouth. “I brought in some ammunition to help ‘convince’ him.” Cunningham’s eyebrows went up. His aide may have been tired but he was still cooking. “Task Force Alpha’s intelligence officer is waiting outside. I thought you might want to talk to her.” The general stared at Stevens. “I had Miss Rahimi flown in from Nellis last night,” Stevens said. “Thought she might be helpful.”

Try as he could, Cunningham honestly did not approve of women in the military, especially civilian specialists. But that bias did not stop him from using them. “Show her in. Also have the DIA send someone up. I want an independent update from them before the Battle Staff meets. Call Ben Yuriden. I’d like to talk to him.”

*

An hour later Cunningham was still talking to Dewa Rahimi and the brigadier general from the DIA. He was turned around in his swivel chair and they had pulled chairs up next to him. “Excuse me, general,” Stevens interrupted. “The Command and Authority Room…” He nodded toward the glass enclosed room to the right. The President was standing there with the Secretary of Defense, his National Security Advisor, Bobby Burke of CIA and Admiral Scovill. “They’re early,” Stevens said.

“I’m not surprised.” Everything that Rahimi and the general from DIA were telling Cunningham indicated that the raid had to go within hours or the well would be half-dry at Kermanshah. Obviously the President’s advisors were staying on top of the situation.

The President sat down and Scovill bent over a microphone. “General Leachmeyer .” His voice quieted the soft buzz in the command center. The tension and expectation could be felt—a physical presence in the room. “Please proceed.”

Leachmeyer took the center dais and introduced an Army colonel who reviewed their latest intelligence. It was the standard stuff that Cunningham had expected—nothing to base a decision on. While the Colonel was talking, Stevens was handed another message. He gave it to Cunningham, who scanned it and passed it on to Dewa. “Why’s it so important that the radar site at Maragheh is off the air?” he asked.

Her face tightened as she read the message. “It means the ingress corridor to Kermanshah is wide open,” she said, and knew as she did so that Stansell was now closer to the danger waiting for him in Iran.

“Charlie”—it was the President’s voice—“this doesn’t give me much to go on. I think it’s time we stop cutting bait and start fishing.”

“Sir”—Leachmeyer’s voice was calm, reasoned—“this is the latest we have.”

You son of a bitch, Cunningham thought, still stalling for time. You want Delta to take it so bad you’re pissing your drawers. It was time to shake the tree. “Our best window is tonight,” he said into the mike at his position.

“Nothing we have supports that,” Leachmeyer said. The two generals stared at each other from across the room as heads twisted back and forth.

Admiral Scovill bent over his microphone to end it. The President placed his hand over the mike and shook his head. He wanted to hear the two men out. Bureaucrats glossed over. A heated argument often got at the truth.

“I just received a message that says the radar site at Maragheh is off the air,” Cunningham said. “That opens a corridor for us.”


If
you were ready to go,” Leachmeyer came back at him. “I understand you do not have the appropriate munitions in place to breach the prison walls.” He almost added a dig about piss-poor planning by the Air Force. Round one to the Army.

How in the hell did he know that? Cunningham wondered. Stevens had the only messages. Had someone back-doored a copy to Leachmeyer? Was it Mado? “But the GBU-12s we need will be at Incirlik in less than”—he made a show of checking his watch—“two hours. No problem.” Round two to the Air Force, thanks to Stevens.

“You need northerly winds to insert your ground team,” Leachmeyer said, still pressing. “And as of twenty minutes ago they weren’t there.” Leachmeyer had done his homework.

“They will be tonight when we need them. The high-pressure system we want is building over the eastern Med as predicted.” Round three was a draw.

“Gentlemen, time out,” the President said. “I want to go over the status of Task Force Alpha and the details of the mission. Run it.”

As two Air Force colonels who worked for Mado took the dais and started a detailed briefing on the plan, Stevens handed Cunningham a note saying Yuriden was waiting for him outside. Cunningham walked out of the command center, found the Israeli colonel in a small office. “Thanks for coming over so quickly, Ben. Have you got anything new for me?”

The Israeli colonel’s face was impassive. “Trucks and tacan are at Kermanshah. Our agent is with Carroll and knows how to work the set.” He paused, trying to decide if he should reveal what else he knew. “General, there’s an airliner on the tarmac at Kermanshah’s aerodrome. It’s for moving half the POWs…” He turned and walked out of the room. Cunningham stared at the door, Yuriden had just played a card he wasn’t supposed to. Israeli intelligence was the best in the Middle East and like all intelligence organizations, the Mossad was very careful about releasing information that might in any way compromise its sources. Cunningham understood that as well as the significance of what Yuriden had done. The Israeli was trusting him not to reveal where he had learned about the airliner.

Cunningham returned quickly to the command center. The two colonels were finishing their briefing. “Miss Rahimi”—he motioned to her to move her chair closer to his—“I’ve just received news that the Iranians have an airliner at Kermanshah for moving the POWs. Can’t reveal my source. Can you back me up? The President has to order a Go for tonight if we’re going to get them out.”

Dewa froze. The danger for Stansell was even closer.

*

 

Langley, Virginia

 

Camm paced the floor of his office, ignoring Susan Fisher as he reread the latest reports out of Iran: the airliner for transfer of POWs was in place at Kermanshah with CIA agents aboard as guards, ready to hijack the aircraft once in flight; the transfer of POWs was expected this night or next day; and Iranian soldiers were occupying the barracks behind the prison in company strength.

“Director Burke is with the President right now,” Fisher said. “I suspect that the POWs are being discussed. Should we tell him about the airliner and the soldiers? We can always claim we monitored a telephone conversation.”

“We’ve got to rescue the POWs…These reports from the prison about troops occupying the barracks…did we ever get confirmation from another source?” Fisher shook her head no. “So they might not be there…And Defense does know about the armored regiment at Shahabad…” Fisher nodded…Of course, Camm told himself, he didn’t want American lives sacrificed needlessly, and since the attacking force knew about the armored regiment, he reasoned that they were certainly prepared for immediate withdrawal in the face of determined resistance. So…

BOOK: Force of Eagles
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