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Authors: Richard Herman

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But the cost had been high. Over three hundred men and women had been killed, another five hundred wounded and sixty-seven F-4s destroyed. Waters had been killed before he could save the people he could not get out in time.

It was left to Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Stansell to surrender Ras Assanya and march three hundred men and one woman into a POW cage. Only two men had avoided capture, dragging Stansell with them, and seventeen had died in captivity.

Cunningham wanted revenge, and his people back.

“Get Mado in here.” Major General Simon Mado was the ranking Air Force member of the Joint Special Operations Agency, the JSOA, which fell under the command of Army General Charles J. Leachmeyer. Mado was the youngest major general in the Air Force, earning his second star for his forty-third birthday. He was also a Rhodes scholar and B-52 pilot. To the people who worked for him, he was a fast-burner who used people for fuel.

“It may be a few minutes. The JSOA is bouncing off the walls. They’re getting ready for the 8:30 meeting.”

Cunningham shot a look at his aide.

“I’ll get him, sir.”

Two minutes later Simon Mado was sitting in the same seat Stevens had vacated. The two-star general looked like a recruiting poster; tall, well-built, square-jawed, blond hair, stern blue eyes. The works. He came to the point. “General Leachmeyer says the President will be at the meeting and is rehearsing a briefing on the JSOA’s plan for rescuing the POWs.”

Cunningham jammed his ever-present cigar into his mouth. “The President is coming here? Unusual. What’s in the plan for the Air Force?”

“Very little, sir, only rear echelon support. It’s going to be an all-Army show with Black Hawk helicopters and Delta Force.”

“Dammit, those are my people over there. Get the word to Leachmeyer that I want in on the action.”

“Sir, JSOA does have another plan for using Air Force C-130s but it’s rough and undeveloped—”

“I want it presented to the President with Leachmeyer’s plan.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Mado said, rising from his chair.

*

At 8:30 the President walked into the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon and took a place on the command mezzanine at the back. Normally he would have sat in the Command and Authority Room, the glass-enclosed room to the right. He was flanked by Robert “Bobby” Burke, Director of Central Intelligence, and Michael Cagliari, the National Security Advisor. He looked at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Terrence Scovill. “Let’s see what you’ve got, Terry.”

“Mr. President, I’m going to turn this over to General Leachmeyer, head of JSOA.”

The President nodded. The Joint Special Operations Agency had been created to unify the response of the elite units of the U.S. armed forces—the units that would carry out any rescue operation.

Leachmeyer mounted the low stage at the head of the room and stood in front of the huge computer-generated situation maps. The center map displayed a portion of the Middle East centered on Kermanshah, a small city in western Iran. “Sir, I’d like to start out with a look at our latest intelligence and then show you the two plans we’re working on. General Mado will cover the intelligence situation and present our first plan.”

The President sank back into his chair. It was going to be a standard military dog-and-pony show. He endured it because it seemed to work and besides, Leachmeyer was one of his poker-playing buddies.

Mado took the stage and glanced at Cunningham, his way of saying he had done his best. He used an electric pointer to draw a circle around the center of the screen. “Intelligence confirms that the POWs are located in a prison on the outskirts of Kermanshah.” He pointed to the city in the Zagros mountains of western Iran located about halfway between the Persian Gulf and the capital of Tehran.

“How good is this information, general?” Admiral Scovill asked.

“Solid as we can get.” Mado flicked the button of the remote control in the handle of the pointer. An enhanced infrared high-resolution photo flashed on the screen. “This was taken Thursday night by a Stealth reconnaissance flight. The POWs were lined up in ranks during the night.” Mado pointed to the assembled ranks of men standing in the courtyard of a large prison-like compound. “We suspect they were made to stand outside as a form of punishment. We were able to get a head count—281. Two independent operatives confirm the number and report cases of brutal treatment.”

The President was leaning forward. “And how reliable are the operatives?”

“Very,” Bobby Burke, the DCI, said. —They’re both our people. There’s one POW unaccounted for—Captain Mary Lynn Hauser.”

“How are you going to get them out?” The President was looking at Mado.

“Our first plan stresses speed and surprise,” Mado said. “We launch C-130s out of Turkey and ingress through the tri-border region of Turkey, Iran and Iraq.” His pointer traced the mute. “We paradrop Delta Force into the compound and at this airfield.” He pointed to an unused airstrip three miles northeast of the compound. “Delta Force frees the POWs and secures the airfield. The C-130s land and we transport the POWs to the waiting aircraft.”

Cunningham split his attention, listening to Mado go over the details of the plan and concentrating on the President’s reaction. The man wasn’t telegraphing a thing. Frustrated, Cunningham looked around the room for other reactions. Michael Cagliari and Admiral Scovill were just listening attentively. But then, Mado was probably the best briefer and public speaker in the Pentagon. The DCI, Bobby Burke, twiddled a pen and fidgeted in his chair. What an incompetent asshole, Cunningham thought. He couldn’t stand the man and didn’t trust him. Leachmeyer was smiling at the army colonel who would present the second plan. Charlie knows something, Cunningham decided.

“Any questions, sir?” Mado said, finishing.

The President shook his head. “But don’t go away, Simon. Okay, Charlie, who’s next?”

“Sir. I’d like to introduce Colonel Sam Johnson, commander of Delta Force,” Leachmeyer said.

“Another golden mouth?”

“Hell no, Mr. President.” Leachmeyer smiled. “Few people can pitch like Simon. I just thought you’d rather hear the second plan from the man who will actually have to go in and do it.”

Cunningham’s jaw tightened—Charlie Leachmeyer was scoring points for his plan.

The burly colonel who stood up was six feet tall, moved with an agile grace. His massive hands made the pointer he picked up look somehow inadequate. Visibly corded muscles ran down his thick neck.

Cunningham hoped the man would be a cretin, hard lines and no brains. He was disappointed. The colonel’s briefing was as short and cogent as Mado’s. Johnson’s army plan was simple: a massive helicopter assault mounted out of Iraq. The timing, tactics, communications and logistics were well thought out. There was little for the Air Force and nothing for the Navy—an Army show. Cunningham had to allow that the plan had merit, but also a flaw.

“Well, gentlemen,” the President said when the colonel had finished, “I’m encouraged.” He turned to his National Security Advisor. “What do you think, Mike?”

“Either one could work,” Mike Cagliari said. “I do see drawbacks to both, though. For example, the first one needs support inside Iran to provide vehicles for moving the POWs to the C- 1 30s—”

“Bobby”—the President turned to his Director of Central Intelligence—“do you have operatives inside Iran who can do that?”

The DCI stopped fidgeting and calmed down. “We have operatives inside Iran, and yes, they can do that. But”—he stared straight at the President—“that type of action qualifies as a covert operation and we can only do that with the approval of the Congressional intelligence committees. Politics, as you know, sir, is alive and well in those committees. Since the Senate committee is controlled by the other party, that almost guarantees a leak to the press. I’m not willing to put my operatives at risk.”

Only the Army colonel did not know the name of the Senator’s aide who would leak the operation to the press.

“Mr. President,” Mado said, “as an option, we can fly in our own vehicles and destroy them when we pull out. It’s not difficult with the C-130s.”

Cunningham gave Mado an appreciative look, he was thinking on his feet.

“Why did you make that an option?” Cagliari asked.

“Three reasons, Mr. Cagliari. First, surprise. The trucks or buses would be in place when we get the POWs out and they just drive off. Second, speed. With our own vehicles we’d have to make three, maybe four round trips. With transportation supplied it’s a one-way trip—once. Third, efficiency. It reduces the number of aircraft we’d need.”

“Okay, Mike,” the President asked, “what’s the matter with the second plan?”

“It’s a big operation using a fleet of helicopters. And we have to launch out of Iraq. I don’t like doing business with the Iraqis and it’s almost sure to be compromised. It’s too big a force to hide while we position.”

“Sir”—it was Colonel Johnson—“we can launch from another country. But that means we’ll have to refuel. The Air Force can fly in or airdrop fuel bladders at a remote site.”

Cunningham was warming up to this army colonel. “This is beginning to sound like Eagle Claw,” he grumbled, loud enough for everyone to hear. He meant the attempt in 1980 to rescue the American hostages out of the U.S. embassy in Tehran had failed because of helicopters. Three had mechanical problems and one had crashed when it moved into position to refuel.

“Anything else?” the President asked.

Cagliari huddled with the President, talking rapidly in a low voice. The President listened, nodded, leaned back in his chair. When his decision was made, his orders tended to erupt like a machine gun. “We go with the second plan using Delta Force and helicopters. But launch out of Turkey or Kuwait. Be ready for an execute order in thirty days. There’s a real possibility for a compromise and it seems logical that the opposition will be watching Delta Force, expecting them to mount a rescue mission. This is the type of operation they were created for. So I want the Air Force to provide a cover for Delta Force and the helicopters.”

The President pointed his pen at Cunningham. “Put a task force together using C-130s like the first plan calls for. Don’t tell anyone they’re a decoy for the real thing, make it credible. If the opposition doesn’t cotton to what you’re doing and take the bait, we’ll oblige and leak it to them.

“But”—he pointed at Burke, the DCI—“you had damn well better
control
the leak and clear it with me. That’s it.” And the President rose and was out of there.

Cunningham put a cigar in his mouth, the muscles in his jaw working. He would not light it until he was in the sanctity of his own office. “Mado, come with me.”

“I wanted more of that mission, Mado.” Cunningham was pacing his office. “Now we’re a goddamn Quaker cannon sitting on the sidelines with our thumbs up our ass. During WW II Patton was tapped to be one for the invasion of Normandy. It almost drove him crazy playing the decoy. I don’t like it any more than he did. But…I’m going to provide the best damn cover operation ever created and I want you to honcho it—be the joint task force commander.”

“Sir, I’d rather stay where the action is in JSOA and work with Delta Force.”

“You’re my expert for special ops and while you may be assigned to the JSOA under Leachmeyer, you’re still, I believe, in the Air Force.”

Mado nodded, pretending to go with rank. Actually he saw Cunningham as a Neanderthal blocking progress, one of the old guard that would keep the Air Force out of the twenty-first century, gung-ho to fight World War II all over again but not remotely prepared for the modern world—a world of neatly integrated commands that General Leachmeyer was going to make happen. “I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you my preferences, sir. But I’ll give you a fake task force that will water their eyeballs. But even though the Air Force puts a Quaker cannon together, since it has to do with special ops, command will still fall under the JSOA.”

“Mado, I
know
that. Just remember those are my Air Force people over there.” As he talked, a plan was taking shape in Cunningham’s mind—the President wanted a cover operation, but he was going to create a force in being—a group so good that they would have to be considered for the actual mission. But it would take the right people and some intricate maneuvering to make it happen…“You’re going to need a mission commander, someone with believability,” he said.

Mado did not hesitate. “Colonel Rupert Stansell.”

“Why him?”

“High visibility, and he’s an obvious choice. He’s the only colonel you’ve got with combat experience in the Middle East. That gives him a feel for operations that can make the difference. He’s good and won’t underestimate the competition. We’re not taking on a bunch of incompetent ragheads. And, general, he’s motivated. Revenge is a lovely thing when you want results. He’ll make it look real. Also, he’s known to the opposition, which might get them looking at him.”

“Get him here. Today.”

*

 

Phoenix, Arizona

 

The security policeman rapped again on the door of Stansell’s condo—much louder the second time. When no one answered, he thought for a moment and headed for the manager’s apartment. He had seen the sign when he entered the complex. He rang the doorbell beneath the discreet sign that announced the manager lived there. The door cracked open and Barbara stuck her head and a bare shoulder around the edge.

“Ma’am, I’m Sergeant Wayne Jenkins from Luke. I’m looking for Colonel Rupert Stansell. He’s not at home and I was wondering if you might know where he is.”

“I can take a message and see that he gets it,” Barbara said.

“Ma’am, this is very important, we’ve got a message from the Pentagon and if we can’t find him really quick we’ll have to get the police involved.”

“Wait a minute, maybe I can get him.” She pushed the door closed, not latching it.

The sergeant gave the door a test shove, cracking it open about six inches. He glanced into the apartment just in time to see Barbara’s bare backside disappear into a bedroom. “Looks like a full-service condominium,” he muttered.

BOOK: Force of Eagles
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