Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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.