The flight back to the HQ was for the most part silent. P. Mendez accompanied him but didn’t have anything to say to his lieutenant. He too had soon received the news about his comrades from the other company. He didn’t feel the same responsibility that Andrew did of course but there was now a certain amount of ‘survivor’s guilt’ about him. He’d known most of these men better than Andrew too, having shared a billet with a quarter of them, and knowing many of the others from their time together during basic training. They’d not been in the air long when a voice cut through the headset he’d put on.
“I’ve got base calling for you,” said the pilot. He’d not been someone Andrew had recognised, and he hadn’t bothered with introductions, being still too deep in his own thoughts. The pilot put the call through and a click from the headset told him the conversation would now be conducted in private.
The caller was his CO back at HQ. He was a little surprised to get a call from such a lofty individual but not totally so. No doubt everyone he came in contact with would want to share in his unexpected and sudden rise to fame. The CO quickly explained the reason for his call.
Since his company had been attacked, as well as searching for him and P. Mendez, Werlder Force troops had been trying to find their attackers. They’d encountered a large group of armed men and had engaged them. Although they were being mainly successful, the captain in charge of the company and both lieutenants had subsequently been hit and were out of commission. The CO didn’t say if this meant they were dead or just injured. He was the closest officer they had and was, of course, already in the air.
“I hate to send you so soon after your recent escapade but there really isn’t a lot of choice, at least until I can get some more men mobilised and up there to join you.”
Andrew said into the transmitter that he was quite ready for the task. He meant it too. This opportunity to avenge his fallen comrades was too good to pass up. He noticed that the pilot had already changed course. He didn’t it seemed have much of a say in the matter anyway. He clicked his own headset to speak to the pilot. From what he’d learned, the attackers had been trying much the same tactic as had worked with his own company. This time though a second company had also been dropped at the LZ and were now engaging the attackers. It meant that he could get pretty close to the fighting straight away, the chopper heading for the same LZ.
“Take P. Mendez back to base, OK? I’m sure his injury is worse than he’s letting on and while I’m sure he’ll be keen to come along, I don’t think he’s really up for it.”
The pilot replied that he was happy to do as asked. It wasn’t something he’d cleared with the CO preferring to make this decision after their conversation, so that it couldn’t be countered. He didn’t think that it would have been, but didn’t want to take that chance. He asked for another headset if one were available and the co-pilot obliged. He handed it to P. Mendez, motioning him to put it on. He didn’t want to have the conversation at shouting pitch nor to be misheard.
While the chopper covered the ground to their landing site, he explained the situation to P. Mendez. As he’d expected, the private was keen to join in the fighting but accepted his lieutenant’s instructions to remain on board and be transferred back to HQ.
When the bird touched down at the LZ his arrival was awaited by a corporal who briefed him on the situation as they `made their way up towards the sounds of gunfire.
The second company had come up at the enemy who were on one side of the trail, soon taking them all out. There were still bad guys firing from the trail so the part of the first company on the other side were technically surrounded but the men from the second company had their attackers on the trail pinned down, so the men on the other side of the trail were free to concentrate on the attack from the jungle behind them.
“That was the situation when I left a few minutes ago, sir,” reported the young corporal. “I don’t think things will have changed much while I’ve been gone. We’ve really just been holding ground waiting for your arrival.”
When they joined the main force – Lemur Company he’d soon learned and half of Kilo Company – the sergeant major there confirmed what the corporal had already told him. Effectively they had some thirty men lined up against a dozen of the traffickers on the trail, then another dozen of their own men on the other side, set against forty or so of the bad guys in the jungle behind them. They were outnumbered, but the Werlder Force would be better trained and equipped than the men who had attacked them.
He thought about their situation for a minute or two. He wasn’t going to repeat his mistake at the town by rushing in too quickly.
“Do we have forward and rear observers up and down the trail?” he asked the sergeant major.
“Three down east, sir. We haven’t heard from the ones to the west, sent up the trail. Either their radio’s out and they can’t communicate, or they got taken out in the first assault,” reported the sergeant major.
He added this information to what he already knew. He could, of course, leave things as they were and await the arrival of their additional forces which should mean they greatly outnumbered their opponents. If not already on the way, they soon would be. Of course, the other force might also have back-up coming though he doubted it. They could also disappear before more of his own forces arrived, leaving their colleagues on the trail to their fate. He didn’t want to take that risk.
He made up his mind. He’d take two dozen of his men west then cut behind the attacking force. That way, they’d be forced to defend on two sides too, making any attempt to attack his surrounded force across the trail much harder. That should mean they could easily hold them until more help arrived. He explained his plan to the sergeant major.
“You stay here and lead the team keeping their heads down on the trail. We’ll leave you one of the heavy machine guns which should help a lot,” he instructed. “While we’re making our way round, raise the team we’ve got down east of the trail. If they can do so safely they should move more to the south to cut off the bulk of the other side’s forces. I’m less worried about the men on the trail. Even if they manage to get out from under your team, at least they’ll be heading in a direction we can pick them up later.”
The sergeant major responded that he understood these instructions. He went off to carry them out and Andrew was joined by each of the men being sent back down to him, each keeping low to avoid the occasional shots being fired from the trail they were confronting. He spied someone with a radio pack, and told the private to stay close to him. He also spotted the corporal who had escorted him from the LZ. He thought about sending him back down there to tell the reinforcements when they arrived what they were doing. He didn’t really have the capacity to spare him though. He could see nothing wrong with his plan, but his troops were still outnumbered and he needed every weapon he could get hold of.
He assigned two men to take point carefully signalling the direction to travel in, and followed them west, the rest of the men following as quietly as they could in single file.
He headed directly west for quite a way, wanting to be sure none of the opposing troops would see their movement, before leading his men south to get behind them. The sounds of gunfire gave away their positions more or less. The sounds were different from the more solid throbs from his own men’s rifles, the excited chatter of his light machine guns and the deep roar of the heavier ones. He’d noticed when he’d been collecting up the weapons in the earlier ambushes that the guns these men were carrying were much more of an eclectic mix than his own troops had. No doubt they were just using whatever they could get hold of. This might help them if ammo began to run short. His own men could share what they had quite readily, whereas there was a good chance bullets from one of their guns wouldn’t fit another.
Once ‘behind’ their lines he started to drop off his own men. They’d form a line of attack before advancing and before giving away their presence if possible. The camouflage of their uniforms was working well. Once each man had been left in position he wasn’t easy to see, even though Andrew knew he was there, especially when he kept low and still. Of course moving out of the prepared positions they’d been in when he arrived had been risky but he was determined that their attackers shouldn’t escape.
Once positioned he signalled the team to advance. They did so slowly and for the most part noiselessly. Each man was watching the ground beneath him as much as looking in the direction they were moving in, being careful not to tread on anything that could snap and attract attention or to stumble over the roots and undergrowth of the jungle floor.
A shot, followed almost immediately by a falling branch, told them they’d been spotted. Andrew didn’t really need the branch to tell him this. The sound had been much louder than the more muffled volleys towards his men defending the trail side. He lowered himself quickly, as did the other men around him. Through the gloomy undergrowth he could now see the outline of the men attacking his own, many of them now turning to face this new threat at their rear.
His men opened fire, a volley of shots answered by several cries as metal tore into flesh. He brought up his own pistol, or rather the one he’d replaced his ‘lost’ one with when they’d returned to camp, and fired off a couple of shots. He wasn’t sure if the shape he was shooting at was human or not. It didn’t seem to have moved and still didn’t even though he was sure he’d hit it. It had a lighter sound than the rifles carried by his men. He hoped the sound would carry to his smaller group caught in the middle of this fight. They’d probably recognise it and know that Andrew’s team were now stationed that side offering some relief to the trapped Werlder Force.
The rifle shots had become individual now after the initial volley, as each man picked his target and fired. The rifle reports were joined by short rat-a-tat bursts from the light machine guns and he saw the bark on the trees ahead of them exploding as the rounds flew into them. Without further instruction his team was slowly advancing, most steps forward being accompanied by a crack from the rifle each was carrying.
The responding fire from the traffickers lessened as bullets loosed off by his men found their marks. Not that they were getting off completely unscathed. He could see gaps in the line where the troops he was leading had fallen. For the most part though their progress, whilst slow, was successful. The initial surprise of their appearance seemed to have caught the opposing force completely off guard and many seemed to have fallen to the first shots that were fired.
He started to see hands being waved, their opponents surrendering. He thought of his own dead company, especially of those killed after the fighting had supposedly finished, and wasn’t surprised that many of these hands quickly dropped from sight again, his men continuing to fire as they advanced.
He should though set a good example. Besides, any captives might be able to provide information. They already knew who – and where – most of the drugs barons were of course, but if nothing else he’d be keen to learn how their operation had been discovered and the plans drawn up which had resulted in the destruction of his company.
He ordered his men to stop firing, and waited in the silence that followed for his opponents to show themselves. Even so he kept low, remembering his experience back at the Academy. His uniform and helmet were pretty much the same as that of the men he was leading, but they’d shot officers first before. That might have been luck or it might have been a more calculating act, intended to leave the Werlder troops ‘headless’. He wasn’t going to take the risk that this wasn’t the case and that this was a trick, or that a lone sniper might try to take him out.
“Do we have any Spanish speakers here?” he quietly asked the radio operator he’d kept beside him as he’d positioned his men.
“Yes, sir,” came the hushed reply, “Corporal Riaz comes from their neck of the woods, I think.”
He told the private to fetch the corporal, but to remain careful in his movement. He was soon joined by the corporal, a small swarthy looking man who was clutching one arm, small rivulets of blood seeping through his fingers to tell Andrew that the corporal was one of those to have been hit.
“It’s OK, sir,” the corporal said, seeing the direction Andrew was looking in, “only a flesh wound I think. Stings a bit though.”
Andrew nodded brusquely, thinking briefly of his own wound in his leg. It was aching again now. Probably had been the whole time, though it hadn’t been something he’d noticed or thought about since he’d arrived.
“Tell them to come out slowly, without weapons and with their hands in the air.”
The corporal nodded and called in Spanish towards their opponents. They started to emerge, hesitantly at first but more confident now that they weren’t being fired on. From the trail gun shots still rang out occasionally, answered by the thud of the heavy machine gun that was the main weapon holding the enemy there.
Andrew was surprised at the number of men that were now emerging. Many more, it seemed, than he’d attacked with. Unlike his own troops, all dressed pretty much the same in their black and green combat uniforms, the men wore an eclectic mix of clothing, much of it stained with darker patches as they nursed wounds received in the exchange that had just taken place.
He motioned them forward and directed some of his men to stand guard over them.
“OK, let’s call down to the rest at the trail, see if they’ll be as co-operative.” He led the remainder of his own troops forward now numbering only a little over a dozen. They were all careful to stay low.
“Coming in,” he called to the troops in the prepared positions on that side of the trail. He didn’t want to be caught by friendly fire at this stage. Actually, he didn’t want to be caught by any kind of fire at any stage!
He crouched down to one of the prepared foxholes next to a sergeant he’d spotted and took a quick report from him. All twelve that he’d originally been told were there were still alive, though several now had wounds to tell of their adventure. He motioned to the corporal who had translated to join him. The corporal did so, keeping low as he had. There weren’t any more shots coming from the trail, now only a few yards ahead of them, but he didn’t want to risk taking another round, especially with things being so close to their finish.
“Tell them it’s time to surrender, that we’ve already got their colleagues and that more of our troops will soon be here. If they don’t give up now, we won’t give them another chance.”
The corporal called a translated version over to the trail. At first there was no response. Then, as Andrew guessed that the lack of any alternative instructions from their own side had told them the truth of this statement, empty hands started to appear and another half dozen men slowly rose from the trail.
“Put them with the others, and make sure everyone’s searched. We don’t want any heroes exploding hand grenades or anything like that. Better get them down to the LZ after you’ve done that, No doubt our crew will be keen to question them.”
‘And will probably do it far more comfortably then their side did me, I expect,’ he thought to himself.
He made sure medics were attending to the injured, on both sides, and that the process of putting those less fortunate in body bags had started, before heading down to the LZ himself. He felt tired now. Adrenalin had stopped pumping through him, his leg was throbbing hard again, and the toll of the last few days was definitely catching up with him.
He made his way wearily down to the LZ. At least now he’d feel that he’d earned the promotion, if the rumours were true.