Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pocket Ful of Memories

It’s been two weeks since I’ve spoken to anyone outside our four man team. Constantly moving at night, avoiding all contact with civilians, observing, recording, monitoring. Our current position is south of our temporary home in Banja Luca. We have just established an LUP near the town of Bocac.

Intel reports suggest that an isolated farm house could be targeted by serbs. The days drag, rarely do we even see anything to report, the occasional vehicle arriving at the farm, a few civilians moving around. Using the binoculars I can see that most of the civilians are women and children, there is one old man we have nicknamed ‘Bobby’ we see him three or four times a day walking around the farm.

Bobby looks to us as if he is keeping watch, always scanning the land around him, he spends a lot of time in the roof area of the barn, and we often see his wrinkled face and bushy moustache pressing against the small window pane. From his vantage point he can see for a mile or so down the small dirt track that connects the farm to what the locals would consider a main road. Many times whilst watching him he has looked straight at my position, I know he can not see me, our OP is well located, but like the others I felt uneasy about the look he gives.

We arrived at this ‘farm’ five days ago; so far nothing has happened out of the ordinary. We watch the children playing around the farm. The women, who are all wearing headscarves, hurry around carrying heavy buckets, feeding chickens, the kind of activity you would expect to see on a rural farm. A few goats are tethered next to the small house and are always milked by Bobby; sometimes one of the kids would help him.

Every time he finished the milking, I would watch him drink a cup of warm goats milk, at that moment I wished I could trade places. Hot food for our team was only available at the LUP, the FOP was only 150 yds from the target area and protocol and standing orders meant no heating of food & drinks, toilet facilities were a small bottle and a plastic bag, worse for me was four hours without a cigarette, made worse when having to watch Bobby sitting at the barn window, with wisps of cigarette smoke spilling out into the cold spring air.It was 8am and I had replaced Nick some 10 minutes ago.

The space he left behind was still warm but he was an untidy sod and had left all the kit in a heap.I started to sort it all out, I preferred to have everything to hand in case I had to bug out, it would take most people 2 minutes to reach my position at the top of the hill from the farm, and I didn’t want to leave anything behind.The kit had been sorted, I settled in for my four hour stint. Looking at my watch I noted the time (0820hrs) and made a note in my log.

I scanned the area looking for activity; I could see Bobby sat in the barn looking down the track. One of the women was in the front yard near the entrance wall. She was stood leaning out over the wall. One of the children was sat on a wooden fence. Something wasn’t quite right, I could hear one of the kids crying from inside the house, then I spotted the goats, they were lying down. an overturned bucket lay next to them, the morning sun was reflecting of its base.

I grabbed my comms kit and sent a sitrep to my TL. Ten minutes went past very slowly. From what I could see, something was wrong, how wrong I could never have imagined.My Comms cracked into life. The voice was that of Paul our TL, he told me that all three of my team were ‘coming in’. Behind me I heard the guys moving in behind the OP, pulling out I let Paul have a look, it only took 20 seconds or so before he came out.

The expression on his face told us all we needed to know. We were going in… not something we had ever done in daylight. Comms checked, belt order checked, weapon loaded, as we moved off using the small copse on the hill as cover I locked my eyes onto Bobby looking for movement, nothing so far. Our infil of the target area was to be from the barn side of the farm, cover was provided by a stone wall that ran from the woods on the hill right down to the barn. It didn’t take us long to get there. I could still hear a child crying in the house.

I took up position at the back of the barn; I could see only the gable end of the house, a few chickens pecked at the ground 30 feet in front of me.A small door on my left led into the wooden barn, slightly ajar. Nick moved around me from my rear, weapon ready. As he came past the right side of me, he stopped dead in his tracks, slowly he came down to my level as we both crouched there he turned and signalled silently that he had spotted something in the doorway, from his signal I understood what he meant, a trip wire. This meant only one thing, someone or something was waiting for us to try and go in that door.

Slowly Nick moved forward, leaning into the open door, after a few seconds he turned to me and handed me a tin can, inside was a Russian made grenade with what was left of the trip wire that he had cut.Aware that there may be other IED’s waiting for us we entered the barn, I moved toward the large open doors opposite the farmhouse whilst the other guys went to check on Bobby.

The smell already told me that something was dead. The comms crackled, Bobby was dead, his throat had been cut and a grenade without pin had been placed in his mouth, making him dangerous to touch. The rest of the guys joined me at the open barn doors, we already knew that there would be other bodies, without even looking, I knew that the woman ‘leaning’ over the stone wall was more than likely dead. The my mind shot to the little girl sat on the fence, she must have seen all this and be in a complete state of shock, from my position I could not see her, but I knew were I last saw her, on the fence.

Paul tapped me on the shoulder, I didn’t need a verbal command, I knew my job.I sprinted towards the main gate of the farm yard; going past the little girl on the fence I saw her look at me, I had to ignore her for now and get the job done. As I ran I knew the rest of the guys were securing the farmhouse. On arrival at the gates I could see from her frozen stare that the old woman on the wall was dead.

The leg that I could see was partially covered by dark coloured stockings, the blood had stiffened the material and created black stains down to her brown ankle boots. I was knelt about 12 feet from her but the smell was already recognisable. I was scanning the lane looking for anything that could threaten us. I could hear the guys crashing through the house, the occasional shout of ‘clear’ made me relax a little more.

My senses snapped into overdrive as I spotted movement in the bushes to my right, with instinct my weapon lifted towards the bush. Then it came, one of the goats, it skipped out of the bush and stood on the lane looking straight at me. I started to smile, it was a bloody goat! My breathing started again. It started to move towards me, all I was thinking of was the warm milk I was going to be enjoying. It was then I noticed the small package attached around its neck with black masking tape.

I gave no thought to what it could be; it shouldn’t be there and therefore was a threat, with a single shot the back of its head flipped right off. As it fell to the floor I gave the contact warning over the radio.I moved to towards the woman that was laid over the wall, I was looking to get some cover between me and the goat. As I moved the goats suspicious necklace exploded. I was protected by the thick stone wall from most of the blast but I still went down.

A combination of things happened all at the same time, the blast had thrown the woman’s body off the wall and on top of me, my weapon hit me in the face, my right leg had been hit, there was blood running down my face into my mouth and eyes. I felt my lungs empty of air and struggle to replace it. I was confused as to what had just happened.

I knew I had to get this woman off me and get air into my lungs. I heaved upwards and moved backwards and freed myself.The intake of air tasted of cordite, the smoke and dust filled my lungs and eyes causing my eyes to start streaming, I gave a few coughs and started to spit the blood and dirt from my mouth, I noticed one of the guys at the farmhouse door, I gave him a thumbs up, indicating that I was OK.

I grabbed my weapon and sat with my back against the wall. I looked at the faceless woman now laid in front of me and took a deep breath. I looked down to check my leg which was hurting like hell. I could see a large splinter of bone sticking out, I knew it wasn’t mine as I could still move my foot, it was from the goat, there wasn’t much blood which surprised me,

I had never been injured before and was expecting lots of blood and gore when it did happen, but no, just bloody pain!I could see that the bone splinter hadn’t gone in far and was mainly under skin. I pulled it out, and for some reason put it in my pocket, maybe to look at closer later.The radio hissed in my ear, I couldn’t hear it; the ringing was still too loud. I looked up and could see the guys looking down the lane, it then hit me, the device must have been detonated by remote trigger, which meant that we had company.

I checked my weapon and got ready to move. A quick look at the guys and I realised they were watching something behind me. It was then I realised the little girl was exposed to any fire fight that we may get into; I had to get her down of that damn fence.I scurried towards her, what met me made me recoil backwards in disbelief, she wasn’t sitting on the fence, she had been impaled on a wooden stake, looking upward I could see where the large pole had torn through her underwear, the blood covered all of her crotch and legs, I half laid on the ground unable to react, the blood was slowly dripping from her dirty little trainers, one was dripping on to my right boot,

I pulled it back with repulsion unable to comprehend what I was seeing, and then it happened , the small moan that dragged me back into reality, she was alive, oh God what do I do. No amount of training could help me now, I was all she had, do I lift her off? do I leave her there? I really had no idea what to do, I looked at the guys 20 feet away, I guess I was looking for an answer, none came, they were concentrating on the new threat.

My world suddenly became me and her. I moved towards her trying to keep my eyes on her face. I didn’t want to look at the pole, just concentrate on her face, her eyes were open and she looked straight at me, no facial expression just her brown eyes looking at me.I reached up and took her small hand. It felt cold, I had to do something she looked at me and I heard her say ‘neny’ which I knew meant mother, I glanced back at the faceless body laid near the wall. I decided I was going to lift her off, but doing so was going to expose me, I didn’t care.

I stood up and placed my hands under her arms, my intention was to try and lift her straight up, as I started to grip her tight her eyes looked up at me and she gave a small smile, I leaned in to kiss her cheek, whispering to her ‘don’t worry, you will be alright’ I knew she didn’t understand me, and I knew she wasn’t going to be alright. Suddenly everything went red and I was back on the floor, my weapon clattered away down the yard.

I looked up to see her golden hair now black and wet. Her head down, they had used her as bait. She was dead the moment they had arrived that morning.I sat in total disbelief, tears ran down my face, and mixed with her blood that was covering my face, the salty taste in my mouth and throat was too much and I vomited. I rolled over onto my stomach and allowed my body to react.

I wiped my eyes and for the second time that day, I took a deep breath. As my vision cleared I could see right in front of my face, part of the girls ear, still in place was a small silver stud, fingers shook as I carefully removed the stud, looking at it I knew I had to keep it, and I put it into my pocket. Training kicked in, recent events went into a mental box, weapon – get it!

I grabbed my weapon and ran back to the gate, crouching against the stone wall I tried the radio, Paul was there, a reassuring voice that I needed, my world suddenly became big again. Pete joined me a little Australian guy with wiry red hair, he put his hand on my back and nodded, that’s all the support I needed, and we knew what we were going to do, take out the shooter.We crossed the lane and went into the cover of the bushes; the other side was a wide open meadow with a rusty old tractor as its centrepiece.

Pete moved off slowly toward the junction of the lane and the main road, I followed, the taste of blood still making me nauseous, we crept for about 100yds when Pete’s left arm came up, his hand in a fist, the signal to stop. We both froze like rabbits in headlights; I closed my eyes and opened my mouth, straining to hear what Pete was looking at. I could hear frantic voices in the distance.

Pete’s voice jumped into my ear through the radio, a sit rep being given to Paul, there was two men with weapons 20yds to our front, visual was confirmed by Paul. Pete started to move straight forward, I side stepped and came out into the edge of the field, weapon raised. As I did the two men to our front jumped up screaming at each, before they could get off any rounds Pete came out on my left the ‘thwack’ ‘thwack’ of his suppressed weapon causing one to go down the second dropped his weapon and was screaming at me, I didn’t understand a word he was saying he was grabbing his Serbian Police shirt and gesturing towards the farm, I didn’t care, even if I knew what he meant.

My rounds hit him in the throat as I started my run towards him. He was laid on the ground gurgling and gasping for air, the body of his partner laid over a sports bag, the contents spilling out, a mixture of cassette tapes, gold rings and necklaces, grenades, and tins of food. My attention was brought back to my quarry, his face blood red, his hand trying to hold together his shredded neck.

His last breath left him with undeniable finality. As his hand slid from his neck I noticed the gold crucifix, I crouched down and couldn’t do anything but stare at it, laid in a mix of flesh and thick red blood its hypocrisy offended me, I put my hand on his head and ripped it from his neck, and put it in my pocket.

Aghwa - A Soldiers Tale

As I drove north towards Birmingham, the previous nights activities were still fresh in my mind, I glanced over my shoulder and looked at the pair of knackered old boots sat there on the back seat, the toes were scuffed to hell, the black polish all gone, the mass of creases that stretched across their width, each had a story to tell, but no one would ever hear them.

A hundred quid I had paid for them at the auction of Cherry’s kit in the Sgt’s Mess at Hereford. The funeral was the typical sombre and official occasion that all regimental funerals were. St Martins Church was packed with family, friends and colleagues, I didn’t really listen to the service or pay attention who was there, all that was in my mind was the lads that were still in Sierra Leone.

It had been six months now since I left the SAS, and I felt completely lost, I had always been a very private person., no one in my family had any idea that I had served with the regiment, not that I had much contact with them anyway. When I got the call about the funeral, I was strangely glad; I was going to Credenhill, my old home, my old mates, that bloody fantastic Chinese takeaway in the village! And my mates, the people who had been my family for the last six years.

As I pulled into the service station, my train of thought moved quickly to cheeseburger and chips. Last night’s session of heavy drinking and ‘war stories’ had made the trip to the Chinese a non-starter. I was bloody starving.

I got out of the car and realised I was in shit order… I had been wearing the same clothes for 24 hours now, my blood alcohol level was probably still way to high for pc plods liking. I put on my Oakley sunglasses to hide my bloodshot eyes, fags went into my top pocket with my old Zippo and I headed off towards McD’s.

As I walked sluggishly towards the main building my pocket started to vibrate, I was a little surprised as the only people that had this number was the 264 Signals guys in Commcen. What the hell did they want?

“Hello?” I recognised the voice straight away, ‘Speedy’ Turton, like me a ‘D’ Squadron ‘has been’, he left six months before me and had set up a private ‘Security Services’ company, many guys went down this route, using some swanky mailing address in Mayfair and a call answering service to make out they were a top firm.

Joining ‘The Circuit’ as a bodyguard or security consultant was something I had always avoided, nothing would bore me more shitless than babysitting some low ranking Arab princess, whilst she ponced around Harrods and Harvey Nicks wasting a small fortune on crap.

‘Steve, I have a job in the pipeline if your interested, pays top whack, and it isn’t babysitting’ the last part of his sentence interested me. “What is it? I asked.
“Not on the phone mate, let’s talk face to face” before I could answer I realised that the guy stood 100yds to my front was Speedy. Hitting the red button as I walked over to him I realised he must have followed me all the way from Hereford, shit why hadn’t I spotted him, mentally I smacked myself in the mouth for being so lacks.

The Big Mac and fries were limp and cold as they normally are, but it was food.
The large black coffee was the only thing I was actually getting pleasure from, and it was waking me up. Speedy was sat in front of me, his corporate uniform of white shirt and striped tie covering his heavily tattooed body. I noticed the ones on his hands were no longer there, ‘must have had them removed’ I thought ‘not right for the image’.

With a large belch, he looked at me and said “So, interested?”
Speedy had given me a brief outline of the job, some young Pakistani girl had been taken to the ‘home country’ and left there for an arranged marriage, her wealthy aunt wanted her back in the UK, Speedy was on her way to see her and wanted me to come with him.

“Steve this is an ‘off the radar’ job mate, but the money being offered is good” he smiled “and looking at the state of you, you need it”

He was right, as I sat their in my ‘uniform’ of black t-shirt and blue jeans, topped off with a black bomber jacket and brown caterpillar boots, I didn’t exactly look financially flushed. My savings were nearly gone and there was still no job on the horizon that I was interested in.

I explained to Speedy that I wasn’t into the Circuit scene, but he was right, I needed to do something, and it wasn’t just for the money, I needed a buzz.

We headed off together into Birmingham City centre, Speedy had arranged to meet his client in a Hotel. I followed his Rover 75 through the modern city buildings of Birmingham, as we passed all the signs for Cadburys World we suddenly pulled into a hotel driveway, The Birmingham Marriot, oh did I feel out of place now! I suddenly became very conscious of my clothes and shabby appearance.

I followed Speedy into the Hotel bar, I ordered a couple of coffee’s whilst Speedy yaked into his mobile. “Down in a minute” he said, nodding I put his coffee on the table and lit a cigarette. We sat in silence; Speedy looked nervously through the menu of club sandwich crap that these places sold for a small fortune. Suddenly he was on his feet and greeting his client, I slowly stood up, not sure what I was doing there, Speedy introduced me to an elegant Asian woman, everything about her smelled of money, she reminded me of Sophia Loren with her mass of dark hair and sunglasses. She half smiled and gestured for us to sit.

She ordered three coffees and began to tell us the whole story, Speedy was taking notes whilst I just sat and listened.

Last week I had a phone call from my15 year old niece Kiran, she was in Karachi. My brother had taken her there under the pretext of a family holiday to meet her relatives. Kiran was born in the UK and has never been to Pakistan before, when they arrived my brother took her passport from her, he has arranged for her to be married to a local boy from a wealthy family. She tells me that she will kill herself rather than go through with this, she is not a true Pakistani girl, she does not understand how things work back home. She is very westernised and an independent creature, I can not say anything to my brother or my family, I am a woman and I have no real power to persuade anyone, I am willing to pay you a generous amount to take her from Pakistan and bring her to me, I can protect her once she is back in the UK”

Speedy jumped in with a few questions, mainly asking for correct spellings of names and places.

I want you to move very quickly on this, I have decided to spend £500,000, half I will give you now, the rest when my niece is safe here with me.

Half a million quid! Bloody hell I thought to myself, this woman is serious.

An hour later Speedy and I were stood in the car park next to my battered old VW Polo, the sports bag on his shoulder looked very innocent considering it contained 250 grand to fund an illegal kidnap, even though the target was willing, she was still a child and in Pakistan. His face was carrying a huge grin as he slapped a wad of cash into my hand. “there’s 2 grand, go and sort yourself out, get down to London, find a hotel and get some kip, we fly out tomorrow night” I later found out that Speedy had already organised the logistics prior to meeting the client, she had sent 10 grand by courier just to show how serious she was. Speedy had obviously wasted no time.

I booked into the Union Jack Club in Waterloo; it isn’t a 5 star hotel but it’s warm and clean. After a quick shopping trip for some new clothes and some wash kit I showered and got my head down.

Leaving my car in the long stay car park at Heathrow I headed of to meet Speedy and the rest of the team. The flight was uneventful and the plane touched down at Jinnah International at just after 9am, a gruelling 7 hour flight for a smoker!

The searing heat hit me like a brick; it was like stepping into an oven. Outside the airport three taxis stood waiting for our team, we all banged our kit in the boot and jumped in the back seats, the front of all three taxis were loaded with bottled water and cans of coke. The city was bustling with constant activity and noise, the roads didn’t seem to have any kind of rules or white lines, and you just drove forwards.

Our taxi driver was busy gobbing off to the other two lads, telling them all about his family and his desire to go to London and drive a cab. Their interest was about as much as mine, but I was sat behind him and he couldn’t get eye contact with me.

We pulled into the small courtyard of our hotel, several young men wearing smart burgundy uniforms complete with pill box hats grabbed all of our bags and headed into the cool entrance of the lobby.

Our first briefing took place in Speedy’s hotel room, as per operational security, a full electronic sweep had been made of the room. I was paired up with a guy called ‘Deano’, he looked like a real thug and his gruff Liverpool accent didn’t help him.
I learnt he had just left the Royal Green Jackets and had done several COP tours in Northern Ireland. Our task was to be the ‘grab team’, Speedy had already sent some guys out to locate our target and check the set up, a full ops briefing was to take place that night, decisions would be made then on our next moves.

I went back to the room for a cold shower, the humidity was fairly high and it had been a while since I had been in a country this hot. I had been taking my malaria tablets since I booked into the Union Jack Club, the nausea takes a bit of getting used to as did the local beer, which combined made for a pretty lousy day. I sat next to the aircon unit in my shorts & flip flops watching the obligatory CNN.
Deano was taking his second shower of the afternoon and sorting his kit. The room was a small sized twin room with a small balcony overlooking the downtown area of Karachi, Deano’s kit was all laid out on his bed, military fashion, boots polished and clothes pressed and neatly folded.

My bag sat on the floor at the side of the bed, unopened, my jeans t-shirt and Cats lay in a heap where I had left them, my socks were at the bottom of the waste basket where I had thrown them, the smell still hanging in the air. It suddenly disappeared as Deano came out of the shower room, the smell of Lynx deodorant hit the back of my throat making me gag, lightening another cigarette and opening a coke, I tried to take gulps of cold air from the aircon.

Deano walked naked across the wooden floor, dripping water everywhere his red hair spiked into a Mohican and his numerous tattoos reinforced the thug image. His neck and arms were already going pink from the brief exposure to Karachi’s hot sun. I stepped out onto the balcony to let him dress in private, not that he gave a shit, but the sight of his hairy arse added to my already dodgy stomach was a bit too much for me to take.

As I stood there watching the sun setting past various minarets that broke the horizon, I could hear the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer, my mind went back to Sarajevo and the Serb artillery, raining death on a city that once had a heartbeat. The phone in the room rang, as I turned I saw Dino with the phone to his ear “alright mate coming up”. I took another coke from the fridge and followed Deano out into the corridor.

He was dressed as if he was going for a night out with the lads, his pressed black shirt hung over his matching black Levis, his white trainers squeaked on the polished wood floor as we walked to the lifts. He must have thought I was a real lazy bastard as I walked along in my underwear and flip flops Coke in one hand, fags and lighter in the other. By the time we got out of the lift on the tenth floor Dino was pulling at his shirt trying to get some air in to dry out his soaked skin “fuck” he said as we walked towards Speedy’s room. I just smiled and finished the last of the coke and dropped the empty can into an ashtray. Deano knocked on the door.

Inside was Speedy and two other guys, Speedy was screaming into his mobile at some poor bastard, the other two were both sat at the small table looking at maps, Dino went straight to the bathroom to look for a towel, I opened the mini-bar and took another coke out. Speedy finished his call and turned to me, “Steve your kit is over there in the black holdall take it with you when you go” “ok mate” I replied.

Deano came out of the bathroom with a handful of toilet paper mopping the sweat from his head and neck. “Deano yours kits in the blue bag next to the TV, take it when you go”

We all settled in for a thorough briefing, maps were pinned on walls, photos were passed around. No one made any notes; this would be a serious breach of opsec protocols. Three hours later we all knew what we were doing. Tomorrow was Friday, day of prayer for the Muslims, similar to our Sunday. Most shops would be shut, people spent time with their family or visited friends, and most went to pray at one of the hundreds of mosques that were in the area.

A recon of our targets house had shown she lived in a nice part of town, which for us was not a good thing. She was with the family of her ‘husband to be’. They were fairly wealthy by Pakistani standards; the old man was a former Colonel in the Pakistan Army and had a reputation for being ruthless. Our ‘eyes on’ was a local guy called ‘Zaffi’ he was one of the local fixers, he supplied all our weapons and organised the logistics for our departure, our plan was fairly simple, snatch the young girl whilst the family were at prayer, hightail it to the British Deputy High Commission in Karachi, here we would hand her over and then leave the country, all very simple, or so we thought.

Back in our room, Deano and I started going through our kit that Speedy had given us,
I was a little surprised at the lack of firepower being used, the bags only weapon was a 9mm Browning and two clips of ammo. A day’s supply of water and a tourist guide of the city were also included. A cheap mobile phone was also in the bag complete with charger, I put it onto charge, no spare battery, no Motorola comms kit with throat microphones.

This whole project began to worry me a little, the planning seemed on the surface to be ok, but I wasn’t party to the Intel coming in from the target area. I walked to the fridge and pulled out another coke.

“You going dressed like that then, dickwad?” Deano asked in his normal polite way.
Emptying the last of the coke down my neck I ignored his comment and picked up my bag. Tipping the contents onto the bed revealed an assortment of t-shirts and jeans, all new, bought in London just before I left, with the exception of a knackered old pair of black boots with scuffed toes, looking at them I smiled as memories of Cherry came back. “Fuck me man” Deano said “that’s a pair of boots and a half” “yeah, a mate gave them to me” I replied.

I checked my watch it was now 1am, we were due to leave in an hour’s time, we knew that sunrise was a 05:10hrs and that the muezzin would probably call the Ezan at about 05:00hrs, this would signal the time for Fajr, the morning prayer.

Our information was that Kiran did not attend prayers, and that the Colonel had ordered her to be kept hidden in the house, Zaffi had said she is guarded by the old women of the family and that we should have no trouble taking her. The map of the house was roughly drawn and a red cross marked the room where we would find Kiran, it all looked straight forward, in and out in under 5 minutes.

02:00hrs and Deano and I were sat in the back of a small panel van driven by Zaffi, the van smelled of diesel and old pieces of car engines were stacked in one corner, a couple of greasy jerry cans were tied with bailing string to the vans frame. The rust on the wheel arches had penetrated all the way through… I could just make out the street light bouncing of the road. Deano and I sat on a couple of old tires, I tried to see where we were going, but I didn’t want to lift my head higher than the front seats, all I managed to see was the tops of buildings flashing by and the occasional Coke Cola advert.

The van stopped, without turning Zaffi said “your turn now my friends” I turned and slid the side door open a couple of inches, everything was quiet, the white washed perimeter wall was 1 meter in front of me, the top was castellated and a good 3 meters from the ground, using the van roof I jumped over to the top of the wall, Deano followed me with an “umph”. We both lay on top of the wall looking down into the oasis below, it was a total contrast to the grey and dusty road outside the wall, the scent of flowers and the sound of a water feature stirred the early morning silence.

I noticed fingers of new morning sun just starting to creep across the far side of the garden. A diesel engine started somewhere of to my right on the other side of the building, I could hear voices then the sound of car doors closing, and the tailing off of sound as the car drove away. Tapping Deano on the leg, I dropped down onto the soft grass; he landed at my side seconds later. We both drew our weapons and headed off towards the main building.

We had arrived at the edge of a large courtyard that extended from the back of the main house; the whole area was approximately 500 square yards of boot crunching gravel. A small strip of earth containing what looked like tomato plants ran the length of the building, creeping under widows we moved towards the concrete steps running up into the house. This was our holding point, the plan we had now implemented involved Zaffi ringing the front door bell and creating a commotion, I had no idea what he had in mind, I really didn’t give a shit as long as he pulled peoples attention from the rear. Using the mobile phone I gave Zaffi the signal to go, I sat waiting for the sound of commotion at the front door, I could feel the adrenaline starting to pump, any minute now we would be committed, I glanced round at Deano, the bastard has his finger up his nose digging as hard as he could, noticing my looks he held his hands up “what?” he asked, before I got chance to say anything I heard shouting from the front, time to move.

I sprung up and took the three steps in one, opening the wooden door into a cool corridor, turned left, down a flight of whitewashed concrete, BASTARD! We were met by a gate of steel bars, and padlocked. Shit… looking through I could see our quarry, she stood staring at me from the other side, the steel chain from her ankle snaking back to a D ring fixed to the wall, ‘Stand back’ I said, she took a couple of steps to the side, the chain clanking on the concrete floor, I fired one round into the padlock, shit we had seconds to get out before company would be joining us. Deano stood at the gate looking back up the stairwell, watching our back. I ran over to the D ring on the wall, embedded deep, shit.

Kiran reacted like a rabbit in headlights, her brown eyes wide with fear, I realised she had no idea who we where, “Your Aunt sent us for you” I said , her confused and frightened look turned into a huge smile, her brown eyes sparkling with tears, “Oh my God “ she said “Thank You!” I looked up at her as I lifted the chain onto a stool “we aint outa the shit yet darling”. The sound of AK47 rounds filled the air as Deano’s body flew back into the room. I fired a round into the chain, the old wooden stool fell apart at the same time as the chain links separated, Movement from my right, instinct took over, I turned and crouched into a low profile firing position, without hesitation or thought, 2 rounds headed towards what came in the door, with full effect.

Grabbing Kiran by the shoulder, I ran over to Deano, the AK had hit him chest, neck and throat at least one round had exited the side of his head, his left eye gone and replaced by a large hole, his weapon lay near the corpse of whatever had entered the room, with my pistol pointing towards the stairs and doorway, I moved quickly towards the blood stained pile of clothing, movement of an arm warranted a further round into what remained of its head, the wooden stock of the AK was sticking out from underneath a blood stained leg, with my weapon still aimed up the stairs, I pulled the weapon free with a clatter.

Turning I picked up Deano’s 9mm and put it into my waistband, I held out my free hand to Kiran expecting her to take it. The lack of action on her part shocked me, I turned to see her just staring at Deano “Kiran, come on, we have to go NOW”. The jolt of my voice served its purpose, taking my still outstretched hand she moved towards me with the remnant of chain sliding behind her, glancing down she picked up the metal snake by its tail. “Just stay behind me and do what I say” I told her, she nodded as we stepped over the body that lay between us and the first step.

With pistol in my right hand and Kiran gripping the other tightly we slowly moved to the top of the steps, all was quiet, the smell of cordite hung in the air, quickly we exited out into the courtyard, turning right we entered the drive way that ran the length of the house out onto the main road, the metal chain link gate was wide open.

We both ran towards the main road, suddenly we heard the screech of brakes, Zaffi and the van, Kiran stopped dead in her tracks wrenching my arm back “its ok , he’s with me” and off we set. I opened the side door and let Kiran jump in, I slammed the door closed and started to climb into the front, as I did something caught my eye. At the far end of the drive was a breeze block built building, its white paint peeling and its tin roof covered in vines. The wooden door had a barred opening at the top, peering out was the face of a child.

Turning to Zaffi I said “2 secs” sprinting down the driveway I got to the end in seconds, I looked through the window but could see nothing it was too dark, taking a step backwards I kicked the handle area with the flat of my boot, the door flew wide and allowed light to flood in. The stench was unbearable, covering my mouth and nose with the bottom of my t-shirt I moved slowly inside, I could see the floor was covered in shit, by the looks of it human in origin. Then my foot connected with something, crouching down and moving my boot at the same time I saw that I had been stood on a very small hand, this wasn’t the first time I had seen child death, the Balkans were full of daily experiences like this. As my eyes became accustomed to the dark

I could make out at least three bodies, all children. One was sitting up, its state of decomposition had caused its small head to break off and hang loosely on its bare chest. I had seen a child’s face I knew there was one here in this room, as I strained in the darkness to see, movement to my left and two bare feet shuffled forward, I could make out the shape of a small child “come on love, I’m here to help” I said, I knew she probably had no clue what I was saying, but maybe she could tell from my tone that I was no threat.

She shuffled a little closer into the light, what met me was horrific, a small naked girl about 8 years old stood with her head down, fiddling with her finger tips, she was very malnourished her belly round and distended a small wound on her hip moved as the maggots continued their work, I slowly moved my hand to her chin and gently lifted her head, what met me was large brown eyes sunk deep into her skull like face, the blankness in her eyes looked all to familiar, this innocent little girl was in her own private hell. My phone rang causing the girl to jump back into the shadows, “yeah?” “You got company” replied Zaffi, turning I saw that he had gone and the front of a Mercedes was turning into the drive. “Fuck” I said out loud, I pushed the door closed as best I could with my right foot as I stood up.

The Mercedes came to a halt at the end of the house; the driver was a young man in his early 20’s wearing a sky blue cotton short sleeved shirt and grey trousers, he got out first and opened the rear door, and an elderly woman struggled out the back holding on to the young man for balance. They both headed off inside seeking the coolness of the house, the front passenger door opened and a tall thin man in his 60’s got out, his black hair and moustached tinged with grey that made him look very distinguished, must be the old colonel, he headed off towards the gates and started to shut them.

A scream from within the house made him start rushing back, he stopped at the back of the Mercedes opening the boot he pulled out an AK47, he walked towards the house steps loading a magazine and cocking the weapon as he went, I reached around for the one I took off my double tap downstairs, Oh shit, I realised I had thrown it into the foot well of the van just before I ran down here.

I checked the magazine on my 9mm, eight rounds left and a full clip of 13 spare, I also had Deano’s with a full clip still stuffed in my waist. I looked for the little girl, I could make out where she was but no features were showing. Moving my finger to my lips I motioned for her to shush. It was hardly necessary she was way beyond scared.

Movement from the house caused me to turn and look, the young guy came out first, pistol in hand, as he ran off to the scented garden where we entered the old man came down the steps with the AK pointing where ever he was looking. Then he saw the busted door and started moving towards us, I crouched down and took aim through the crack in the door, both rounds hit his chin causing his jaw to shatter, he went straight down.

I reached and grabbed the girl around the waist and pulled her towards me. Lifting her up onto my left hip I stood up, with my right foot I edged the door open, I knew the young man would be coming any second, he came running from around the corner, he was met with the site of the old man on the gravel, the lower half of his face gone.

He then looked up and saw me stood in the doorway with the little girl, the fear on his face cascaded away as anger surged into him, he lifted the pistol and started firing wildly in my direction, from that distance I knew he would hit nothing I started to run towards the car firing as I went, six rounds fired, CLICK! I couldn’t change magazines I only had one hand free, dropping the weapon I reached for Deano’s. Two shots thudded into his chest and he went down.

I bundled the little girl into the car and ran over to the young man Id just shot, he would have the keys. As I approached, a flash of what he had done to the little girl curled up in the car hit me, a single round in his face stopped my anger from taking over, reaching into his pockets I found the keys. I jumped in the car the young girl was cowering on the floor in front of the passenger seat. Looking around I saw a car blanket behind me, I opened it up and wrapped it around her naked body. “Fucking Bastards” I muttered under my breath.

Starting the car and looking in the rear view mirror told me that the gates had been closed. I reversed at speed towards them wheels spinning on the gravel. We crashed through them and came out onto the road, turning the steering wheel to the right I accelerated off back towards town. In the distance I could see two police cars heading my way at speed, lights and sirens screaming in to the Friday peace. I slowed as they approached and pulled out my phone.

“Where the fuck are ya” I screamed at Zaffi I had no idea where I am or how to get back to the hotel. “Stop the car I am right behind you”. Looking in my side mirror I could see the van coming up fast behind me. I slammed the brakes on hard the rear end of the Merc fishtailed slightly as I skidded to a halt.

I ran around to the passenger side and lifted the bundle out of the car. As I turned Zaffi was pulling up behind me. I ran to the side door and slid it open. Climbing in I saw Kiran sitting behind Zaffi, a bottle of water in her hand, slamming the door shut we started to drive at a normal speed towards the hotel. I lay the bundle across my knee and started to unwrap it, as I pulled the blanket apart her face came into view, her sunken brown eyes still blank staring up at the van roof, I gestured to Kiran to pass the water, taking off the top with my teeth I offered it up to the little girls dry and cracked lips, she took a small sip and looked at me, eye contact, then a small smile, she managed to take a few more sips before the sheer exhaustion of the last hour took over.

We had arranged to meet the other two guys from the team 500yds from the Deputy High Commissioners building, here we would hand over Kiran to them, and they would then take her to safety with the DHC. There was to be no connection with us and the delivery, the other guys would use the cover story of finding her wandering in the street as they were walking to the DHC to ask about visas or some shit like that.

Zaffi has already made the call confirming our ETA whilst I was seeing to the little girl. “1 minute until drop off” he said, I looked up at Kiran “Don’t worry you will be safe very soon” “your Aunt is waiting for you, she will take care of everything”
Kiran looked at me and smiled “thank you very much for what you did” she paused “what’s your name?” she asked. I was looking at the scuffed toes on my boots “Cherry” I said looking up with a smile, “Well thanks Cherry, I owe you” she said “yeah me to darling, me too”

The door slid open; the other two guys were stood there dressed in casual jeans & t-shirts, “hello Kiran, we are going to walk you to the consulate now, are you ready” “yeah I am” came the reply. As she moved past me, Kiran kissed me gently on the cheek and whispered “thanks again” She got out and the door was slid shut. I looked through the front window of the van and watched the three of them head of down the road, Kiran still clutching the snake’s tail as she walked towards her freedom.

“What know boss?” Zafi asked, I remembered the little girl, “no idea mate, you have any suggestions?” We both knew that a Hospital was a no go, too many people asking awkward questions. “I know a woman that runs a small orphanage, maybe she can help” said Zafi “Sounds good to me, let’s go!”

Zaffi crunched the gears into place and we set off down the road. Looking down at the little girl I watched her as she slept. Memories of butchered babies and young children in Sarajevo swamped my mind. I had no idea why this little girl was being held in that shed, who were the other children that were dead? Nothing made sense to me at all, even to this day I don’t know for sure, I can only assume they were kept either for sexual pleasure or to sell on as slaves.

We arrived at a small building next to a row of closed shops, Zafi went inside and came back a few minutes later with a European lady, who I later found out was Dutch. Zafi slid the door open and she reached in and took the bundle from me. She smiled at me and said”Zafi told me what you did, thank you. She will be safe now with us”

I climbed out of the van as well and stretched my arms back. The Dutch lady was already heading back into the cool of the Orphanage, “wait” I said , as she stopped and turned, I walked towards her with my hand in my pocket, I pulled out the rest of the money that Speedy gave me, must have been £1500 at least,

“Please take this” I said pushing the money into her hand. I glanced down that the little girl’s face still sleeping. I turned and walked away.

Zafi drove me to the hotel where Speedy was waiting with the two guys. Kiran had been delivered safely to the DHC. I gave a full debrief to Speedy who nodded in all the right places.

Three weeks later I was back in London, I had accepted a position with one of the ex-regiment guys that Speedy knew. I was working as a bodyguard for a wealthy Arab shop owner, his son had just been killed in a car crash and security had been doubled. All the team were former SAS and I knew most of them. I was back in the bosom of my family.

As I sat on the steps of the Albert Memorial, a short walk from my new employers shop, I sipped my ‘latte’ and pulled the envelope from my pocket, as I had for the fiftieth or so time that day, taking out the photograph I smiled, The little girl, now well fed and clothed grinned back at me with her now glowing eyes, baring her teeth trying to show the world that she smiled again.

On the back written in scrawling pencil “Thank You Mr Cherry”

Blood & Fire

Most people remember Yugoslavia as a holiday destination – all blue sea and the endless, warm sunshine. I found nothing left of it. Where had it gone? Where were the lovely old buildings? Sitting in the mountains near Banja Luca I scanned the horizon. The villages were reduced to rubble, ruined minuets struggling to break the skyline, distant dogs barking at unknown fears punctuating an odd, eerie silence. The sun was blocked out by hundreds of columns of black smoke and the remembered picture postcard image ripped up and thrown away by war.I had been in these mountains for three weeks now, our mission unknown.

Our orders had been to get into the hills and stay there until called. Sometimes I wondered if we had been forgotten. It was early spring and most of the snow had gone, the mountain streams of ice water were running fast, and washing in it wasn’t an experience we looked forward to.My training for Mountain Troop was the last specialist stuff I had done before being sent here, but I found it easy. As a young kid growing up in the heart of a mining town, I had regularly searched out green hills and wild countryside.

Most weekends would find me camping alone in the local woods, without a tent or sleeping bag. I would build my own shelters and hide, sometimes on the ground, sometimes in trees. I’d move quietly across open fields camouflaged so the gamekeepers and farmers never saw me. Breakfast was always fresh eggs that I would steal from the numerous farms and smallholdings in the area.I had read every book I could find about survival and my most treasured possession back then was a copy of the SAS Survival Handbook by Lofty Wiseman. I’d read that book for months and I would head off into the woods to practise some of the techniques described by Lofty. He became my master and my teacher. (It was many years later that I was to meet him and get him to sign my now tattered and grubby book. I told him that he was my inspiration for joining the SAS). Joining M Troop was for me a jolly holiday, or so I thought.

Our lay up point (LUP) commanded a view of most of the valley below and we could see the main highway running its length, dotted each side with rubble sites that were once houses. About 2km away we could see the town of Sanski Most. Behind it we could see the mountains rising to a concentrated patch of thick black smoke: our map told us that this was the small village of Sasina, no doubt burnt out by the Serbs.I stared at the ground in front of me, eyes shut tight against the growing light, trying in vain to erase the images I had seen over the last few weeks. As I opened my eyes reluctantly I caught sight of my reflection staring back at me from a water pool in the mud at my feet, highlighting the spurt of facial hair that was beginning to piss me off. Some patches that had grown slower than the rest and there were areas of ginger showing through. It itched and all I wanted to do was rip it off.

Our position overlooking the valley was a small ridge just below the summit which created a natural hollow in which we were able to stay out of view. We didn’t worry too much about being spotted as the back of the summit was sheer rock and the approach from either side was thick gorse and practically impassable. The only way in was from the front where I sat.

We used hexy blocks for cooking but not wood fires as the smoke given off by the former was minimal.The sun was starting to warm the valley and I could see small pockets of early morning mist forming in the dips and hollows of the hillside. I cocked my head towards the sun and squinted, the warmth on my face felt good after the cold night.‘Here you are Steve’ I felt footsteps behind me and turning my head I saw a mug of hot steaming coffee being offered to me by Nick, a Kiwi with big shoulders, a weather beaten face and blonde hair. Nick was a ‘surfer dude’ and was always talking about the waves back home. I took the coffee gratefully and he came and sat down next to me. I pulled out my metal tin containing my cigarettes and offered one to Nick. He refused. I knew he didn’t smoke but I always offered.‘Anything happening?’ he asked.‘Not really. Looks like they hit Sasina during the night’.He looked over towards the far side of the valley where the columns of black smoke were rising at an angle from the ground. ‘Poor bastards’ he said quietly.

We both sat scanning the valley. ‘It’d be a good day for surfing back home’ Nick suddenly announced. I found myself smiling. Nick knew he could wind us all up by banging on about his surfing exploits. Suddenly I felt the weight of his huge hand hit on my back. He slapped me companionably and laughed: ‘Don’t worry mate, Ill make a Kiwi outta ya one day’. He rose to his feet. A tiny movement below caught my eye. I grabbed Nicks sleeve and pulled him back down. He was already scanning the view. ‘By that white building’ I said. Nick followed my gaze down the valley.At the bottom, surrounded on three sides by thick gorse, was a white house. We knew it was empty when we moved into our current position. It had been ransacked at some point and the cobbled yard to the front was littered with household debris and personal belongings that were once precious to someone. But now a slight wisp of smoke was coming from one of its chimneys but there was no sign of movement outside.

I pulled the binoculars from my smock pocket and trained them on the house. I could see nothing just the smoke from the chimney. ‘I’ll go and tell the guys’ said Nick. ‘OK mate’ I said. I didn’t look up.The coffee had gone cold by the time I took another mouthful; I had spent ten minutes or so observing the house through the binoculars, still seeing nothing but the smoke.Nick came back bringing ‘Cherry’ and Vince with him. Cherry was the new boy. He had only passed selection two months ago and this was his first time out with the troop. Vince was the Sergeant, senior in rank to all of us, and the team leader. He was a small weasel like character with a narrow pointed nose, known in the Regiment as ‘Probo’ from the word ‘proboscis’. I remember a young kid on selection referring to him as Sergeant Probo. He promptly lost his front teeth and was RTU’d.An excited Cherry spotted the young woman first.‘Blimey, look at the tits on that’ he said.‘Where?’ we all asked the same question in unison.I picked her out about twenty feet from the rear of the house.

There was a mountain stream that ran past the left of the house and she was hidden from the road by thick vegetation, but we could all see her clearly. She looked about 25 years old and had long black hair, almost to her waist. She had slipped her arms out of the white blouse she was wearing, and stood bare breasted by the river splashing water onto her body.I assumed she was the reason for the smoke coming from the house, but was she alone. She turned to pick up the cloth she was going to use to dry herself. When she moved we could suddenly see a small child about 4 years old sitting on the river bank. We all sat and watched as she continued to dress and then began to wash the small child as well.But whilst we had been watching her in the river, someone else had been watching from the far side of the valley. Probo suddenly swung his head around and scanned the valley road to the right of the house.‘Company’ he said tersely. We all looked to the right of the house and saw the flashes of sunlight catching on vehicles as they sped down the hedged lined road towards the house.Probo continued to monitor their progress whilst Nick, Cherry and I went back to get our kit.

We all were travelling light with small Bergens & belt kit. Grabbing the Bergens and weapons we moved up to the ridge. Our SOP would be to bug out from this location should we come under fire.We cleared a path through the thick gorse heading off to the valley behind us and left the last twenty feet of vegetation untouched. This would deter anyone from just wandering into our position from the rear.As we returned to the ridge, Probo had now moved back slightly and was lying on his stomach, binoculars in his hands, watching the progress being made down the road. All three of us joined Probo on the ridge.‘Serb Militia?’‘Yeah looks that way’ came the reply.We had witnessed the aftermath of the Serb Militia, an army of sadistic bastards determined to wipe out everyone who wasn’t a Serb, especially the Muslims. They didn’t think twice about murdering civilians of either gender or age, and most of them took pleasure in doing so.We knew from our Intel briefings that the ‘Serb Militia’ were in the main football hooligans called ‘Red Star Belgrade’.

Under the leadership of Zeljko 'Arkan' Raznatovic they became the ‘Serb Volunteer Guard’ in 1990. The Serbs called them ‘Arkans Tigers’ as did his own propaganda machine.I had once spent three months observing their training camp in Erdut. They were 10,000 strong and trained in the art of killing. They had a reputation for brutality and they never spared the lives of prisoners they captured: they would not think twice about slotting all of us should the opportunity be presented to them.Watching the ‘Tigers’ drive down the road I could now see that there were three vehicles in all. At the front was a long wheel based 4x4 with tinted windows, probably containing the commander. Behind that were two pickup trucks full of men in military uniforms. All three vehicles were painted black and each had a red shield with a white cross and insignia painted on the bonnets which identified them definitely as ‘Tigers’.

Back at the stream the woman and child were still next to the river, the sound of running water masking the sound of the approaching convoy. Suddenly from the rear door of the house a man ran out, scanning the surrounding land. He and the woman spotted each other at the same time. He gave her a brief wave, obviously some kind of signal, and they both headed off in opposite directions.She grabbed the child quickly and headed into the cold river, well hidden from view as she moved upstream towards us. The man had run out into the open fields and was struggling through the thick grass.All three vehicles had pulled into the yard in front of the house. Soldiers in the pickups spilled out around the house while a couple had gone straight in, firing as they went. A shout from one of them indicated that he spotted the lone man running off through the field.

The big 4x4 revved up its engine and tore into the field after him. It passed him within seconds and turned across his path, forcing caused him to turn 90 degrees and head off up the slopes. Again the 4x4 cut him off, this time coming to a complete stop.He stood arms out wide, spinning around, trapped with nowhere to run. He dropped to his knees, exhausted and without hope. I knew he was going to die, his fate had been sealed the moment he lit that fire.The driver of the 4x4 was revving his engine and jerking the beast forward like a bull scraping its hoofs on the floor. The man rose to his feet and stood looking straight into the front windscreen, the chrome bull bars lurched forward knocking the man back 5 feet or so. He managed to keep his balance, his head turned as he looked towards the river making sure that the woman could not be seen.

Through the binoculars I could see the tears running down his face. Again the threatening 4x4 lurched forward. The message was clear and the man turned resignedly and walked back towards the house.The ‘Tigers’ stood on the boundary walls, cheering the mechanical hunter returning with its prize. As the man walked through the gate from the field into the yard, a soldier let fly with a fist, smashing into the side of his head. He fell forward and lay in the dust of the yard. Another soldier now came from the ranks, placed his boot on the man’s head and then turned to talk to someone in the 4x4. The rear door swung open and a small man with a round face climbed out. Turning towards the tinted glass he pulled his uniform tunic straight and ran his hands over his red beret.‘Fuck me!’ whispered Probo ‘Its bloody Arkan himself’. ‘Who is Arkan?’ asked Cherry. The slap to the back of the head from Vince answered his question decisively.

Arkan turned and walked towards the man on the ground. He was lying perfectly still: he knew there was nothing he could do. Standing at his shoulder Arkan crouched down into a squat position. He appeared to be talking to him but it didn’t look like he was getting any response. Arkan patted him on the side of the face, the way you would a dog or a small child.He gestured up to the soldier whose boot was firmly pressing on the man’s head and the soldier swing his AK47 with bayonet fixed round to the man’s face. Arkan carried on talking to him and pointed his thumb up towards the weapons owner. But it was obviously he was not getting what he wanted. Arkan spat in the man’s face and stood up.The point of the bayonet was pressed hard against his neck.

The soldier was yelling at him, the only response he got was a rapid increase in breathing as the bayonet slowly entered the man’s neck, his windpipe filling with blood as he began to choke and splutter blood from his mouth.His executioner suddenly swept the bayonet forward, slicing the man’s throat wide. Red froth spilled out from the gap. He was still alive, the main arteries were still pumping blood at an enormous rate due to the adrenalin,They were not going to hang around waiting for him to die of blood loss. One of the soldiers on the wall jumped down and took two strides to reach the man on the ground. His whole body was now twitching as his hands clawed at his open throat and the boot holding his head firmly on the ground.Taking a large blade from its sheath the soldier knelt down besides the man and started to saw at the neck, his attempts to remove the man’s head lasted nearly 10 minutes. By the time he had succeeded the man had stopped twitching; his blood loss or a severed nerve had caused him to either black out or die.I was expecting the ‘head hunter’ to hold his trophy high, to be cheered by the others who silently watched. Instead he threw it to the ground and it rolled near someone’s boot. The kick was the start of a volley, like some kind of sick football match.

Arkan stood expressionless, his hands behind his back, watching his Tigers play.Looking back at the woman, I could just see her, crouched down in the freezing mountain river. Standing on the riverbank where she bathed earlier, a Tiger was lifting the clothing she left behind. Holding it up and examining it, he realised that it had not been out all night and must have been left there recently: he also knew it belonged to a woman. Dropping the clothing, he reached for his AK slung across his back, holding it with both hands he started to search the area. The child must have made a noise because suddenly his head flew up and he bounded over to the rivers edge where the woman was hiding.Reaching down he grabbed her hair with one hand and pulled her towards him.

She couldn’t stop him because she needed both hands to hold her child. Her heels slipped in the wet mud as she tried to get traction, but with a twist of his wrist he pulled her onto the bank and she fell face down, shielding her child with her body.Her screams had attracted the other Tigers and any chance her captor had of keeping her for himself was now gone. His anger came in the form of a hard kick to her ribs. She rolled away from the small child and her desperate attempts to reach for him again failed as the force of the soldier’s kick sent her back into the water again.Her frantic scramble back out of the water was pure animal instinct, her only desire to protect the precious child she had given birth to.

The soldier lent down and picked the child up by its clothing staring down at the woman on all fours, her arms outstretched, pleading for her baby. He laughed down at her.There were now four other Tigers walking casually towards their new prize. One of them held out both his arms and shouted something towards the lone Tiger who, glancing down at the screaming toddler, smiled, half turned and drop kicked the bundle in their direction. The scream from the mother cut through the air like a siren.The four of them jumped aside as the child hit the ground in the middle of them. Either dead or injured the infant lay still in the grass.

One of the soldiers lifted his thigh parallel to the ground and stomped on the child’s head with his boot, the skull and flesh split open as it was pushed into the soft earth, a roar of laughter came from the other three and the lone Tiger standing by the river.Without glancing back they continued walking to their next prize. When they arrived at the woman the stomper walked over to her and pushed her into the mud with his boot, he then began to wipe the underside on her clothing, the smears of blood from her now dead child streaked down her back.

Cherry had pulled back from the ridge and was retching; I slid backwards to join him.‘Why the fuck aren’t we doing anything? He asked ‘ Let’s slot the bastards’ he said. The raw emotion and horror was clear in his voice.‘Listen Cherry, two things mate. Firstly we are under orders not to get involved and we aren’t even supposed to be here’. I paused and sighed. ‘Secondly there are about twenty of those fuckers and only four of us - they probably have a thousand mates five minutes away as well’.Cherry looked straight at me ‘ Fuck me… we must do something’.I was just about to go over it again with him when I heard Probo scream ‘BASTARDS!’ then the sound of his weapon opening up. I hadn’t noticed his reaction to what had just happened.

He was the only one of us with kids.I spun around and leaped over the ridge. Probo and Nick where already 20 yards down the hillside, both firing short bursts at the five Tigers standing with the woman. They had turned and tried to get cover next to the house, but they weren’t quick enough. Two went straight down, the drop kicker flew into the river, half his face neatly removed by a round.The other two were within ten feet of the house when they turned to fire, but it was no good. Probo and Nick poured their bursts of fire straight into them. Cherry and I were in instinct mode heading straight at the main force in the yard, running down the hill as we fired.Our targets had immediately scattered and four, five and six went down within our first few bursts. Arkan spun on his heals and jumped straight into the 4x4 slamming the door, its wheels spinning franticly as I fired into Arkan’s window.

The glass turned into a mass of white blooms as the rounds hit. ‘Fuck’ I thought to myself ‘armoured glass’.To my left I could see that Probo and Nick had reached the woman. She was crawling on all fours through the grass towards her child. Nick had dropped to one knee and was now firing rounds into the Tigers who were desperately trying to get into the pickups. Probo had reached the woman and he dragged her towards the cover of the house and the vegetation. Nick followed, continuing to fire at the Tigers in the yard.Cherry and I started a staggered run; each one of us provided cover fire whilst the other moved forward. The initial surprise must have worn off and a couple of the Tigers started to return fire.

They were desperately trying to give covering fire to enable their men to get on board the now retreating pick-ups.I dropped to one knee and continued to fire as Cherry came running past. I saw his bowling arm come over and release a grenade into the yard. He dropped and started firing. I stayed in position and continued to fire, waiting for the grenade to do its job.Cherry had already made ready and thrown a second grenade into the house window closest to him. The first one in the yard went off with a flash of brilliant white light, phosphorous.The instant smell of burning flesh told us that it had found a victim and seconds later vibrations shook the house as the frag grenade released its deadly package. I ran past Cherry, firing as I went, saw him change magazines, and then he was up and running the last few yards with me.

We both hit the wall at the same time. We could hear the rounds flying over our heads and hitting the far side of the wall. Cherry cut off to the right heading for the gated entrance to the yard. I took two grenades from my vest and pulled the pins, one frag and one white smoke.I lobbed them both over the wall and waited. Part of the wall fell over as the blast hit it. Scrambling towards the gap I dived through and into the yard.Cherry had reached the gate 10 feet to my right. No targets, I saw nothing, no fire came our way. The white smoke was still hissing from its canister, filling the yard.One of the grenades had caught one of the trucks and its payload of shredded & mutilated Serbian Tigers lay in a burning heap. The wheels were still on fire, the black acrid smoke mixed with the white from the grenade.

The only sound I could hear was my own breathing, my ears were still ringing with the noise of battle, and the smoke filled my lungs and streamed my eyes.My adrenalin started to subside and I let out a long slow breath. I could hear the vehicles roaring up the road away from us. One of the injured Tigers moved. ‘Thwack’, a round hit him in the cheek shattering his face. Cherry had already spotted him.Nick’s voice came from within the house: ‘CLEAR’ he yelled. I moved towards the house as Cherry headed off around the burning vehicle towards the front entrance. I scanned the yard and saw nothing but bodies, ‘CLEAR’ I shouted. Seconds later Cherry repeated the signal.

Nick came out of the front door and stood on the stone step surveying the carnage: ‘Fuck me boys, we did have a party didn’t we?’ he said quietly.Cherry was walking back towards the house when he suddenly stopped. At his feet was the decapitated head of the Tigers first victim. He turned and emptied his stomach contents. I walked over with a Serbian uniform tunic that lay on the ground, and covered the head from view.‘Come on let’s move’ said Nick ‘there’s going to be a shit storm coming this way’ we knew he was right, and we needed to get as far away from here as possible.We followed Nick through the house and out of the side door towards the river. Probo was holding the sobbing woman, her arms outstretched towards her dead child.

Nick spoke first: ‘ Ok guys we need a plan’. We knew our debug plan was of no use now. With the level of interest about to be shown we needed to move and move swiftly.Over the sobbing of the woman Probo spoke: ‘Cherry, get on the blower and give a sitrep, see if we can get a helo lift from this field’.Whilst Cherry made the call Nick and I went over to the child’s body with a few rocks in our hands, we started to place them on top of the small bundle. The woman behind us had regained some sense of composure. Probo was talking softly to her and she nodded her understanding. She rose and came over with Probo following behind. With her she had brought rocks to help cover her child.

We had almost finished when Cherry came over: ‘ Sorry guys, they can’t get an extract in here for two hours and by that time this place will be buzzing. We need to secure a new RV for a Helo-lift’.Probo removed his wool cap and ran his hand through his sweat-drenched head. He was looking around in all directions. ‘Sasina’ he said pointing up the other side of the valley, looking up I could see the smoke still coming from the small mountain village.‘ The Serbs have already been through it, and they wouldn’t think to look up there’ he added.He was right, they would scour the area around the house and up the hill, to our last LUP. They would find our backdoor exit and assume we had headed in that direction, but first we would need to open up the gorse doorway.

Cherry was tasked to return to the LUP and collect the Bergens. He also had to go and open the trail through the gorse as this would make the Serbs think we had headed north and down into the far valley.Cherry headed up the hill. Nick and I started to sort out our own kit. The magazines had to be refilled from the loose ammo carried in our belt kit.Probo had found a Serbian army smock for the woman and he walked over to give it to her when she spoke. ‘My name is Anna’ she said with a hoarse voice ‘I thank you for helping me’ Probo looked at me then turned to Anna ‘You speak English’ he stated ‘Yes, I was a school teacher in the village of Sasina. I came here last night with my family when the Tigers came’ she explained ‘but they found us, and they killed my baby’ nodding at the pile of stones.

She obviously did not realise that we had sat and watched it all, I don’t think any of us wanted to tell her that. ‘Your husband..’ Probo started to say, ‘yes I know, he is dead also, I saw them bring him back to the house’ Probo nodded, ‘I am sorry’ he said. The tears ran down Anna’s face as she put the tunic on.I turned to see Cherry coming back down the hill with the Bergen’s dragging behind him, I ran over to help. ‘I’ve left some Claymores up there for our friends’. ‘Good drills mate’ I replied.The Bergens were too big for us to think about taking with us, but they contain food and ammo, which we needed. We all dived into our own Bergens and started transferring the spare ammo into our belt kit.

Cherry ran off to the yard with a hand full of grenades - another little surprise for our friends.I stuffed some of the MRE food into my pockets, handed a packet to Anna and ripped open one for myself. The cold beef stew slid down my throat. Anna did the same. I broke a Mars bar in half and gave one piece to her as well.Cherry came running back from the yard. ‘Everyone ready?’ asked Probo and we started to move, following him into the water and heading south.Just beyond the house the river ran under the road through a large culvert. Stooping down we headed into it. Halfway through Cherry left another little shocker:’ in case they follow us this way’ he explained with a grim smile.

Coming out the other side was like stepping into Hell. On both sides of the bank, rotting corpses were entangled in the overhanging branches as they met the waters edge.There were at least ten of them, bodies of women, children, and men and some that you couldn’t tell. Waxy skin containing the now grey and rotting flesh bobbed in the streaming water. They must have been the occupants of the house.We had begun to push past the bodies when one floated loose from the main group, a woman’s body with one half cleaved clean and missing, a wooden stake had been inserted into her mouth and exited at the base of the skull.Using the butt of my rifle I tried to keep the legs from swinging round and hitting me, the force of the water and my actions made the head swing towards me. Instinctively I put my hand out to grab the stake and as I did the head parted from the torso. Repulsed and shocked I pushed it away and moved forward, turning to grab Anna as I went.She was standing still with her eyes shut, the long sleeve of her tunic held over her mouth with a shaking hand. I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her forwards.Probo was ten feet in front taking point when he suddenly stopped. We all froze. Had he spotted trouble? His right arm came up slowly and tapped his head, the signal to close in on him.

As I moved forward my eyes were searching for the cause of his halt. Then it came into view.Laid out side by side on the riverbank were about twenty naked children, all male. Their ages ranged from 2 or 3 up to late teens. All had been mutilated; their penises cut off leaving raw, blackened wounds, each was crawling with flies.Anna turned and buried her face in her hands. We knew this fate would await us if we were caught. We moved quickly down stream where the river started to get wider.We knew from the map that it joined with another mountain stream that came from Sasina and formed the main artery of water running down the valley. Crossing here was no good, we knew that we would be in open view and vulnerable.

Probo stepped out of the river on to the left bank. The small town of Sanski Most was between our RV point and us. As we sat by the side of the river Probo sent Nick off to have a look for the road because we would have to cross it to go around the town. We didn’t want to follow the river upstream because we would have been seen for miles.Anna removed the wet tunic and tied it around her waist. The spring sunshine would soon dry out our clothes. She pulled back her mass of dark hair into a ponytail, revealing her bruised and battered face. She looked up and saw me watching as she tied the ponytail with a strip of material. She gave me a half smile and stood up.Probo was a few feet in front watching for Nick’s return. Cherry was still standing in the water, watching back down stream.

Finally Nick returned: ‘There is a Serb checkpoint about 200 meters towards the town, it’s just before the river on a bridge’ he reported ‘there is no way we can cross without being seen’.‘Strength?’ Probo asked him. ‘I saw one vehicle and three men, no hut just a barrier of pipes across the road’ came the reply.‘Then we have to take it out’ said Probo ‘it must be a silent kill, so knives only and then take the vehicle and drive through the town and up to the RV’.Anna then spoke, which took us a little by surprise: ‘If you can get the vehicle, I will show you a back route up to my village’ she said quietly. Probo nodded.It was then we heard a grenade go off at the farmhouse which was 1km behind us. Cherry’s welcoming package had been triggered and that meant the hunt had started; we could only hope that they would head north.We set off towards the checkpoint, keeping at least twenty feet into the woods; Nick was to stay with Anna thirty feet out and to provide cover fire in case it went wrong.Cherry stayed in the river following up our rear. The plan was that he would enter the main river and head east towards the bridge.

Once under the bridge he would get on land and try to get behind the lone guard on the far side of the road.Probo and I would take out the two guards this side. We checked our comms kit, put on the throat mics, then headed off towards the checkpoint.We sat in the edge of the woods waiting for Cherry to appear from the other side but suddenly we realised the angles were all wrong. Our targets would spot Cherry leaving the river and we needed a distraction.Probo used the radio and told Cherry to wait out and then a second message was sent to Nick asking for a diversion. What we got was totally unexpected.From my position in the tree line I could see the bend in the road where Anna and Nick were waiting.

From the vegetation stepped Anna, naked, her long dark hair, now loose and flowing.A mans eyes were drawn to her ample breasts and dark nipples, the dark triangle of pubic hair signalling her total nakedness. She knew that to step onto the road dressed would have meant being shot straight away, but naked she would be seen as something to play with first.She started to walk slowly towards the checkpoint. It was my mark that spotted her first, tapping his colleague’s shoulder and pointing down the road with a smile on his face; they both stood staring at Anna who was moving towards them.The guard on the far side had now stood up as well, looking at Anna.

He pushed the peek of his cap upwards and stood with his hands on his webbing belt. All three men were completely bewildered as to what this woman was doing, but they didn’t care, their loins had already begun to stir with the excitement of what was to come.Cherry had already moved from the water and was stood right behind his mark when the other two spotted him. In a flash Cherry took him out.Probo and I rushed from the tree line and grabbed our targets, my forearm covered the mans mouth and nose as I pushed the knife upwards from the back of his neck into the brain, a quick twist severed the spinal cord and he fell limp at my feet.Looking over I could see Probo holding on to his man, using his arm to strangle the guy. Looking up at me he said’ dropped my fucking knife didn’t I’ the Serb clawed at Probo’s arm, his eyes bulging as he bit his tongue.

Suddenly a naked Anna was by my side. She ripped the knife from my hand and launched a frenzied attack on the Serb soldier. She caught Probo with the blade on his arm; he let the soldier drop to the floor. Anna followed him down.Sitting astride him she hammered the knife down into him countless times and none of us tried to stop her. Eventually she stopped, exhausted, tears running down her face and streaking the blood splatters that covered her neck and chest.The Serb lay there on the road, his feet twitching, but he wasn’t dead. By some miracle Anna had missed his heart completely. Realising he was still breathing, Anna leant forward, her naked breasts touching his blood soaked uniform, her wild hair covered his whole head.I heard her whispering into his ear, then the gurgle of blood and air, as she lifted her head her hair fell back revealing the mans throat, cut. Anna sat astride him staring at his face; the knife fell onto the road with a clink. She started to moan and cry again, this time slapping his face and thumping his blood soaked chest.Nick stepped forward and placed her tunic around her naked body. Slowly he lifted her off the now dead Serb and led her away towards the river.

Cherry stood with a look of total shock on his face: ‘Fuck me’ he said ‘these Bosnian women have some serious PMS’. The look from me and Probo told him clearly he was not funny.‘Fucking Muppet’ muttered Probo as he turned and walked towards the vehicle.Probo jumped into the driver’s seat and turned the engine on. It was a white Nissan pickup similar to ones we had seen earlier that day. .‘Come on lets get going’ yelled Probo. Cherry and I climbed in the back. I lifted a tarpaulin saw three RPG’s. ‘They might come in handy’ said Cherry. ‘I hope not’ I replied. Anna and Nick climbed into the front with Probo.

With our backs towards the cab, Cherry and I were able to watch the rear and sides in case of trouble. As we came to the summit of the bridge I turned and banged on the window and Probo slammed on the brakes and got out.From here we could all see the house and the ridge beyond. A line of about 40 soldiers was stretched horizontally across the hill, heading for the ridge while behind them two armoured vehicles followed. ‘Lucky break!’ said Cherry with a big grin. ‘Yeah, you can say that again’ came the reply from Probo. ‘Lucky bre..’ Repeated Cherry. The look he got from both of us stopped him in mid-sentence.Probo jumped back behind the wheel and we were off. The ruins of what was once a town flew past us on either side. Bullet scars had left pockmarks on almost every wall in the town.There were signs of mortar use everywhere with the distinctive star pattern and black burning evident every few feet.

We passed hundreds of bodies as we went and the stench was overwhelming. Even at fifty mph you couldn’t help but smell it. The only thing that was alive was the occasional dog, either barking at our intrusion or feasting on a corpse.We headed up through the town eventually veering off to the left. As we headed into the surrounding woodland the road we were on became narrower and the tarmac stopped. We were now driving on heavily rutted track and the back of the pick up was bouncing a bit too much. Banging on the cab I yelled at Probo, ‘slow the fuck down’. He looked back, grinned and braked all at the same time. ‘Thank you’ I mouthed at him. I decided to remove the RPG’s just in case one went off and over the side they went into the undergrowth.

We drove for nearly half an hour through the thick forest with occasional slivers of sunlight breaking through the leafy canopy. The smell of burning was evident as were the small clouds of smoke choking the wood.We pulled over at the side of the road. Probo got out and said ‘Anna just told me that we must walk from here, she will take us into the village, then onto a clearing on the far side we can use for pick up.’Anna led the way into the forest and after about twenty minutes of walking the village loomed up in front of us. It looked deserted. We stopped at the edge of the tree line. The green grass of a school playing field faced us, the turf had been ripped up by heavy vehicles driving over it, and burnt rafters protruded from one end of it like the ribs of a fallen animal.In the middle was the A frame of a children’s swing and in the centre hung two blackened corpses whilst underneath each the remnants of a fire smouldered.

Probo was looking at his map for a suitable RV point for the Helo lift; Cherry and Nick were in position where the track exited the woods. Sitting next to Anna, I could see the look of anxiety on her face ‘You OK?’ I askedShe nodded, ‘what do I do when you leave? What do any of us do now?’ she asked.I glanced over at Probo ‘maybe we can take you with us, take you somewhere safe’ I replied.Anna looked at me, her eyes widening with hope, ‘to England?’ she asked. ‘No chance’ interrupted Probo having heard the conversation. ‘The best we can do is take you to a UN base. You will be safe there.’ He added.Anna looked over at Probo: ‘I do not think I can go’ she said. I did not understand why she or anyone would not jump at the chance to get away from here and the look on my face betrayed my thoughts.‘When we left here last night, we had to leave my other child behind with my mother’ Anna explained. ‘she has seven years and was not well enough to travel with us.’ .‘I fear she is now dead, the same as the rest of the village’ she said nodding at the corpses hung on the swings ‘but I must find her and my mother’.Cherry had come over to join us ‘it all looks quiet’ he said ‘No sign of Serbs’Probo nodded ‘OK, get on the horn and update these co-ordinates for the RV’ he said handing Cherry the map.

Cherry took the map and started to talk to Ops on the radio. I reached over and took Anna’s hand: ‘look we have about an hour before we can be lifted out, we have to cross the village to get to our RV site, we can look for them with you’ I told her.Anna grasped my hand with both of hers. ‘Thank you’ was all she could say through her tears. She reached into her pocket and produced a small gold ring with a red stone. ‘This belonged to my husband, his name was Rasim and I would like you to have it’. When I protested she would not be persuaded otherwise. I put the ring on my little finger. ‘Thank you’ was all I could say.‘OK RV set’ said Cherry snapping us back to reality. Probo looked at Anna: ‘ Right, we will follow you’ he told her. She nodded as she stood up.I joined Nick by the tree line, after a quick scan I ran across the field towards the school. From the corner of the building I was able to see both directions of the main road. I knelt down and listened but heard nothing, not even a dog barking. Using the comms I gave the all clear. Nick came over first, quickly followed by Probo and Cherry with Anna in between them.‘OK Anna, which way now?’ I asked. ‘Straight over the road and follow the track between the two houses’ she replied.

Cherry sprinted over the road and knelt down at the track entranceway, his weapon up, scanning in both directions. A nod from him initiated a repeat of our previous manoeuvre.Anna and Probo headed off down the track behind Nick while Cherry and I brought up the rear. Suddenly a jeep flashed past the opposite end of the track. We all dropped to the ground and waited.We heard the whine of an engine in reverse gear. Damn, they’d seen us. As it came into view we could see a small black jeep and mounted on the back was a 30 cal. Gripping onto it was a uniformed Serb soldier.As soon as he saw us he opened fire. He managed a short burst of less than a second before Probo hit him in the chest sending him flying out of the jeep onto the road.Nick had also fired at the driver at the same time, catching him under the left arm. He too was lying on the road.

We all moved quickly towards the jeep and checked that the two Serb soldiers were dead. Cherry gave the all clear, but we knew we needed to move. On the other side of the road Anna ran towards the door of a small bungalow. The door was open and she disappeared inside. We guessed it her mother’s house. Probo looked over at Nick and me.‘Go check it out’ he ordered.Nick followed Anna through the front door while I ran down the side of the house to the rear. A four-foot chain link fence surrounded the back yard and in the middle of it stood Anna, her arms at her side.Following her gaze I looked down to see her staring at a naked corpse of a large female, the grotesque shape of the head evidence of a brutal and savage beating.

The woman’s large breasts had many puncture wounds on them, someone had cut off the nipple and it was lying on the floor next to her. ‘Anna?’ I said softly. Without turning she replied ‘my mother’ Nick was standing behind her having followed her through the house.He put his arm around her shoulder and Anna quickly turned into him, burying her face into his chest. Cherry’s voice crackled over the comms ‘I think you guys better get back here’ he said. He sounded excited. Nick had also heard it and started to lead Anna back through the house. Turning, I hurried down the side of the house, expecting trouble.At the front gate of the bungalow stood Probo and in his arms a dark haired little girl who clung to his neck. Anna and Nick walked out through the door, Anna stopped as she looked up at Probo, and both hands flew to her mouth as she gasped ‘Zivica!’.The little girls head turned and she held out both arms to her mother. Anna ran forward and pulled her daughter into her arms, both holding each other tight. I stared hard at the ground, a lump in my throat.

The silence was shattered by the sound of engines roaring up the road. The Tigers had spotted us. Probo grabbed Anna and her daughter and we all ran down the side of the house towards the RV.We managed to turn the corner and were half way across the road when the sound of gunfire erupted. Turning I went down on one knee waiting for a target and Nick was by my side in an instant. The first two that came running out from between the houses anhd got a short burst each from Nick and me. They went down.We both turned and ran. I was heading for the gate where I had seen the others run through. To my left ran a white washed stonewall which was being hit by rounds; one ricocheted and caught my forehead, knocking me over. As I rolled in the dust I saw Nick lying behind me, the top of his head open. He was already dead.Behind his body I could see about 10 Serbs all firing at me, bullets hitting the floor all around. Scrambling to my feet I continued to run, thinking any minute now I was going to catch one in the back. I turned the corner and the hail of bullets stopped.

Ten yards away I could see a large open field and in the centre was an active canister of red smoke. I heard the helicopter making its approach.I dived over the wire fence and rolled into the grass. Looking up I could see the Helo touching down and from out of the bushes to my right ran Probo and Cherry holding on to Anna and her daughter.Behind me gunfire erupted. I turned to see our pursuers and I sat up and fired back. The Serbs were bottle necked in the narrow lane and three went down in my first burst. I glanced back towards the Helo. They were twenty feet out and it was time for me to join them.Dropping my now empty weapon I sprinted towards the Helo, In front I could see rounds hitting the cockpit, I could feel them whizzing past my head.

Probo was on first, Anna was passing her daughter up when she went down, hit in the back.I reached her body as Cherry started to lift her up. We threw her into the Helo and jumped in. Probo had Zivica in one arm and was firing with his other. I grabbed her and strapped her into a seat. Probo carried on firing as we lifted into the air. Cherry was busy with Anna, his bloodstained hands pumping on her chest. It was a futile attempt; she was dead before she had hit the ground.The flight back was in complete silence: Zivica just sat staring at Anna’s body. I tried to comfort her, but she blanked me.

Two days later we had completed our mission debrief. Another team had been back to recover Nick’s body and it was already on a military flight back to Brize Norton.The ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ policy of the Serbian military continued relentlessly. Every day more and more civilians were brutally murdered in their homes. Young women would continue to be taken to ‘Rape Camps’. The orphanages would continue to fill with the lucky children of Bosnia.Zivica is a young woman now, nearly the age of her mother when I met her.

She married a few years ago and has a beautiful young daughter called Anna. She eventually returned to the village of Sasina, where she now works as a nursery teacher.

Eight years later Arkan and I were to met again, this time in a Belgrade Hotel Lobby. That Saturday afternoon he breathed his last.The UN investigators found it strange that his assassins had placed a small gold ring with a red stone in his mouth. They assumed it was a gangland hit.