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Chapter 1

Dabiq, Syria
November 2014

The bodies of the eighteen Syrian officers and pilots were arrayed on their knees facing Mecca as if in prayer, with backs to the sky and a severed head perched on each. The victims’ blue aviation coveralls were soaked with blood, and the flies were beginning to swarm. The butchers, clad in desert-camouflage uniforms and body armor, began to load into the waiting pickup trucks. Among the last to load was Mohammed Emwazi, a man known in the West as Jihadi John and as Ahmed to his friends. He was hurriedly directing the cameraman to capture some final shots before he too could depart.

Ahmed quickly snatched the memory card containing the footage from his cameraman and hurried toward the road, where a late-model Nissan Patrol awaited. Although it was late in the afternoon on a cool mid-November day, the Kuwaiti jihadist began to sweat as he approached the vehicle. He feared Abdul-Rahman, and his anxiety was growing with each step. When he reached the white SUV, the fully tinted rear passenger window began to descend, slowly revealing a very displeased face that caused Ahmed to perspire even more. Ahmed had been taking orders from Abdul-Rahman for the past ten months, yet the man remained a mystery. Abdul-Rahman kept his distance from those beneath him.

Abdul-Rahman Al Ghaneem was also a Kuwaiti. In Arabic his first name meant servant of the most merciful, and his family name, Ghaneem, meant prosperity. Although he was very rich—his family owned one of the largest holding companies in Kuwait—Abdul-Rahman was anything but merciful. He was short of stature, thirty-four years old with a hawkish beak for a nose, intense dark eyes, closely manicured black beard, powerful muscular body, and an aloof superior manner so common to the highborn in the region. Born outside the wall of Kuwait City to a prominent trading family in Jahra, Kuwait, Abdul-Rahman was the fourth son from his father’s third wife. His birth order and standing within the family made a prominent role in the family business impossible. It has always been expected by the Kuwaiti monarchy that the families who benefit most from the defense business contribute the most. From an early age, Abdul-Rahman was groomed by his father to enter military service.

Jahra is an ultraconservative city located forty-five minutes to the north of Kuwait City. Hostile to outsiders and tribally loyal to the Al-Sabah royal family, it is the recruiting place of choice for the Kuwait National Guard (KNG) and the other elite security forces within the emirate. Abdul-Rahman was a major in the KNG Counter-Terrorism Battalion. A graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the US Special Forces Q course, and the US Marine Corps Staff College, Major Abdul-Rahman was the recipient of the finest training available to a Kuwaiti Special Forces officer.

Abdul-Rahman’s family name and background were not known to Ahmed; he only knew the man was to be feared. It was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph himself, who placed Ahmed under Abdul-Rahman’s control, and he had no reservations about what would happen to him if he failed in his duties. The group beheading of the airmen was supposed to be the warm-up to a grand finale, which was scripted to be the confession and ceremonial decapitation of the captive American aid worker. Unfortunately for him, something went wrong with the plan, and it was now Ahmed’s duty to explain it to the boss.

Hours earlier, while loading the prisoners onto the trucks, misfortune struck. The docile behavior of captives in Ahmed’s videos was always helped along by the secret administration of drugs to the prisoners. Sprinkling sedatives into a starving prisoner’s food was a tried and true method to create a compliant captive. Ahmed was not sure if Kessig, the American, got the wrong dose or the wrong drug. What he did know is that the former American Ranger turned out to be anything but compliant.

When the guard lowered the tailgate on the Toyota pickup truck and ordered Kessig to load, the prisoner struck. Despite having his hands bound behind his back, the wiry American managed to swing his hands under his feet and place a strangle hold on the guard. A second guard quickly ended the attack with an AKM rifle shot to the head, saving his friend, but also ending any possibility of filming the script as planned. The 7.62 mm rifle round fired at point-blank range made it impossible to film a close-up of the American. Ahmed was not even sure if it would be possible for enemy intelligence to identify the American when his latest opus was released to the public.

Abdul-Rahman grew impatient listening to the groveling explanation Ahmed provided. The obsequious whining tone in which he blamed the guards for his own leadership failure was difficult for Abdul-Rahman to stomach. Having heard enough, Abdul-Rahman violently opened the door into Ahmed’s chest knocking him hard to the ground. While Ahmed was pushing himself up with his skinny arms to stand, Abdul-Rahman kicked him in the face and then proceeded to kick him in the ribs and back until the cowering jihadist rolled into a ball and begged Abdul-Rahman to stop. Abdul-Rahman considered the failed IT salesman a pathetic excuse for a soldier and was badly tempted to shoot the British Kuwaiti on the spot, but instead he gave him a parting kick to the ribs before walking back to his vehicle.

Abdul-Rahman had no illusions about the quality and motivations of his troops. He knew for the most part they were neither soldiers nor true believers. He had worked with enough of them to know they were misfit serial failures drawn via YouTube and other social media to the romantic images of a global caliphate. The images of sex slaves, brutality, military victory, and a master religion were the dominant themes in his recruiting videos. Brutality was catnip to his audience. The caliphate was a magnet for the cruel and maladjusted. Poorly educated, unemployed, sexually repressed men dominated the ranks. The lack of any kind of selection process and even a remote semblance of discipline and training culminated in a Daesh force that was a complete menace to humanity.

Abdul-Rahman stemmed his anger, realizing he would have to spare the British Beatle, as Ahmed and his three British companions were often called. The shocking effectiveness of the perverted work Ahmed was doing was critical to his objective, and he couldn’t let his personal disgust interfere with the mission. More than one thousand misfits a month began flowing into the caliphate after Ahmed’s first production hit the Internet back in August. There was no arguing that the skinny IT geek knew how to hit the right notes to resonate with the target audience. Ahmed was the Leni Riefenstahl of the caliphate. With that in mind, Abdul-Rahman jumped back into his vehicle and began the long drive back to his hometown.

Chapter 2

Kuwait City, Kuwait
November 2014

Abdul-Rahman was dressed in an immaculate white kandora with an equally immaculate white gutrah around his head as he relaxed in the waiting room, nibbling on dates while sipping Arabic coffee (qahwah) outside the private office of Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. Sheik Meshal was the younger brother of the emir of Kuwait and was the deputy chairman of the Kuwait National Guard. The KNG is the only military force allowed to be stationed within the confines of Kuwait City. The palace was in the urban center of the city. Bland and unimpressive from the outside, the huge domicile consumed most of a city block. While the architecturally uninspired exterior was clearly lacking in curb appeal, the inside was magnificent. The three-story structure contained more than one hundred cavernous marble and gold rooms lavishly decorated and furnished.

The palace was just recently occupied, and this was Abdul-Rahman’s first visit to the sheik in his newly renovated home. While he was sure the seventy-three-year-old sheik was aiming for an exotic Arabian Nights theme with his choice of décor, he seemed to have just missed the mark and managed instead to capture something more akin to what Abdul-Rahman imagined a 1920s French bordello would have looked like. The sheik had a reputation for liking the ladies, and from this perspective it was possible the décor was not an accident after all. His latest marriage to a lovely nineteen-year-old girl was his sixteenth. Although limited by law to only four wives at a time, the sheik was quick to divorce and remarry. His favorite wife had been with him for thirty-seven years, but the remaining three wives changed like the seasons.

While being ushered into the sheik’s office, Abdul-Rahman took note that he was meeting him alone, as was their routine. Unlike the gaudy décor in the rest of the palace the office had the look and feel of a British private men’s club. Somewhat dimly lit with mahogany wood-paneled walls, deep red carpet, solid leather furniture, and a scattering of scenic paintings featuring hounds, foxes, and of course the mounted hunters. Abdul-Rahman had known the sheik since he’d served as his personal assistant while still a junior captain. He was distantly related to the sheik on his mother’s side and that, along with his military record, was the strongest reason for his trusted position.

When they got through the perfunctory greetings, the sheik got right down to business and asked Abdul-Rahman about his travels. Abdul-Rahman picked up the fruit drink sitting on the coffee table in front of him and observed the keen interest from the sheik, who was seated across from him. “Cee Dee, the Shia threat along our northern border has almost completely vanished. Daesh has claimed large territories in the north and west of Iraq, and the major focus from the Iranians is the defense of Baghdad. Daesh continues to grow in number despite the coalition bombings. The morale is high, and they are continuing to expand into territories to the north and east. The coalition air campaign was very effective at first, but Daesh have adapted and are shifting tactics away from vehicle assaults that can be easily targeted from the sky and are instead relying more on dismounted and night operations. They have taken control of Mosul and will soon lay siege to Baghdad. In Kobani the Daesh casualties have been enormous; the air strikes guided by coalition special forces have made it very unlikely Daesh will succeed. In Syria, the Alawites are being slowly bled to death; both sides lose hundreds each month. But a thousand new Daesh fighters arrive every month while Assad’s forces enjoy no such benefit. The Alawites are slowing shrinking out of existence. At this stage, it is only the Iranian revolutionary guard and Quds Force who are offering any resistance on the ground. The Syrian air strikes continue to be effective, but the Alawites’ days are numbered. They just don’t have the personnel necessary to sustain a war of attrition.”

What about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? “Cee Dee, he moves daily to avoid the coalition attacks. I met him in a village near Raqqa, and he was in good spirits. He is obsessed with removing the infidels and apostates from the Levant, he is well advised in military matters, and those around him are loyal. As the caliphate grows, so does his ego, ambition, and paranoia. He is very open about his desire to conquer the Arabian Peninsula. The areas he controls are very dangerous; bands of young men rove like wild dogs on the prowl. As time goes on and his force gets bigger, the quality declines, and it gets less disciplined. If Daesh were ever to run out of enemy, I am sure they’d turn on one another within days.”

For a few minutes both men sat quietly, Abdul-Rahman glanced at the large-screen TV that always seemed to be showing a soccer match of some sort. The sheik thanked Abdul-Rahman and said he must go; he had another appointment. He could see on the young major’s face the conflicting emotions he had about his role. He knew Abdul-Rahman suspected that he was operating independently from his brother the emir on this project. The sheik stood and embraced Abdul-Rahman and walked him to the door with his arm around the younger man’s shoulder as if to reassure him.

After Abdul-Rahman left, Sheik Meshal sat quietly processing the information. There was really nothing new, but it always helped to hear the news reports confirmed by someone he trusted. Sheik Meshal was worried, because he was playing a dangerous game. Many months earlier he, Prince Bandar from Saudi Arabia, and Sheik Rasheed from UAE had hatched a plan to strike a blow against their greatest threat, the Shia of Iran. With the withdrawal of the Americans from Iraq, the nation on the northern border of Kuwait was gradually becoming a satellite state of Iran. Sheik Meshal and his like-minded accomplices funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to the fledging caliphate to counter the influence of Iran in Iraq. Although he never had complete control of Daesh, the sheik’s influence on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was declining rapidly. Earlier, when they were fighting only in Syria, the money Sheik Meshal funneled to them was essential and provided him a modicum of control. Once Daesh seized the Iraqi oil fields, outside funding became less important, as did the people who were supplying that funding.

Managing the propaganda campaign through Abdul-Rahman allowed the sheik to maintain influence over Daesh and promoted an awareness to the Western powers that intervention was necessary. Sheik Meshal’s aim was Sunni control over Iraq, the risk of an Iranian puppet Shia state to Kuwait’s north was too dangerous for the sheik to accept. The sheik viewed Daesh as chemotherapy and the Iranians as the cancer. He was not a supporter of the extremists; he was a pragmatist seeking a counter to Iran. Since the three royals had developed the plan, they had managed to keep their activities secret and had grown to call the little group the “council.” The multitude of economic and security meetings within the GCC allowed them to meet regularly without drawing unwanted attention. All three men held prominent roles within their respective governments.

Chapter 3

Abu Dhabi, UAE
November 2014

Pat Walsh was seated on the flydeck of his motor yacht admiring the view, His lean six-five frame sprawling on the couch. The sun had set minutes earlier, and the temperature was a comfortable seventy-eight degrees. Pat was drinking a Sam Adams in a frosted beer glass, watching a replay of yesterday’s Red Sox game on his iPad. Docked at the marina adjacent to the Intercontinental Hotel, Pat had an excellent view of the presidential palace and the Arabian Sea. His Azimut 64 flydeck motor yacht was the biggest boat in the marina, barely under the maximum allowed limit of twenty-one meters at the Intercontinental Marina.

Pat loved his boat. It was his greatest indulgence. Few knew that he owned it. He was a little embarrassed at the ostentation, and he sometimes tried to rationalize the $3.5 million price tag as a business expense. It gave him some comfort to know that in an emergency, he could escape UAE without having to pass through passport control at the airport. Designed and built in Italy, the yacht was gorgeous inside and out. The V-shaped hull and twin Cummins engines were capable of thirty-five knots. The sharp angles and clean lines gave it a sporty look. The name on the side of the boat was Sam Houston. In 1861, Houston was ousted as the governor of Texas for failing to take an oath of allegiance to the newly created Confederate States of America. Pat strongly identified with Houston, because he too was ousted for failing to be a joiner and speaking truth to power.

In 2004 Pat was a colonel assigned to the Pentagon working directly for the army chief. The army chief of staff at the time was General Shinseki. Shinseki had a storied career. A West Point graduate, badly wounded in Vietnam, he had commanded combat units all the way up to the First Cavalry Division. He was a scholar, a historian, and somewhat of a futurist when it came to combat systems and organizations. Many of the organizations fielded today, like the Stryker brigades, were created by Shinseki.

General Shinseki was cashiered early in his term for dissenting with then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The purging of Shinseki, a few other, lesser generals, and their like-minded minions was a message to the entire military. The message was tragically effective; over the next decade not a single senior officer had the temerity to publicly doubt the wisdom of his political masters. Punishing dissenters and rapidly advancing the ambitious people with flexible principles transformed the military. For the next decade, the Pentagon became an agent of social change and an element of political outreach. Military situations were often adapted to fit campaign narratives. When the president said we were winning the war against terrorism, the Pentagon suppressed any data that contradicted it. Who will ever forget the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Casey, declaring, “Diversity is our strength” the day after Major Nidal Hasan, a radical Islamist of Palestinian origin, killed thirteen and wounded thirty soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009. The Pentagon eventually reached the realm of the absurd when it officially declared global warming to be the number-one threat while soldiers were still being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Before the military became political sock-puppets downgrading bad intelligence reports, focusing on transgender equality and the like, they used to feel it was their responsibility to provide honest analysis to the political class. The sacking of Shinseki put an end to dissent. The fatal blow was delivered soon after a briefing to the SECDEF about force levels in Iraq. The meeting was attended by all the service chiefs. During the meeting, the army chief very calmly and logically compared the ratio of troops to civilians in Bosnia to the much lower troop and much more hostile civilian ratios in existence in Iraq at that time. In Bosnia, where Shinseki had served with the US peacekeeping mission after the ethnic warfare there was stopped, the Pentagon had used a formula of one soldier for every fifty Bosnians. In Iraq that calculation added up to three hundred thousand troops. He concluded with a statement that to achieve the mission in Iraq, the United States must double the size of the deployed force. This analysis was not well received by the SECDEF in the privacy of his office, it was even less well received when Shinseki made the same pronouncement in open testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rumsfeld’s infatuation with special operations forces led him to believe that the impossible could be achieved with only a few brave souls on horseback wearing Green Berets. In his opinion we had already achieved victory in Iraq, and he was tired of being badgered by naysayers insisting on more resources.

It’s impossible to relieve a service chief of staff on the spot unless they break the law, but you can name his replacement and suggest he retire, which is exactly what happened to Shinseki. Years later the dissenters were vindicated when the situation in Iraq went spiraling out of control. A new SECDEF did finally relent and give the military what was needed in what was termed “the surge,” but that was after many lives were already lost. Back in 2004 the smart guys who understood the situation and predicted the future were not rewarded for their clairvoyance; they were burned at the stake Washington, DC, style.

Pat was too junior and inconsequential to have earned the wrath of Rummy. But his enthusiastic support of his boss did not escape the notice of the vengeful sycophants inhabiting the secretary of the army’s office. As a highly decorated infantry officer, just back from commanding his third joint special operations task force (JSOTF) in Iraq, the Pentagon job was supposed to be a one-year gig to preposition him for the National War College in DC. It was Pat’s first time inside the Beltway, and he lacked the political acumen to hide his disdain for the army of the Potomac. From his viewpoint, Shinseki was trying to help Rumsfeld, and Pat couldn’t understand why the guy wouldn’t listen. Rummie had the profound confidence that can only be achieved when there is a dangerous mixture of hubris and ignorance. The Princeton grad with only two years’ active-duty experience with the navy in the 1950s thought himself a military intellectual. He never ceased to lecture the multidecade multiwar veterans like Shinseki about known knowns, known unknowns, and his ever-famous unknown unknowns. Rumsfeld loved the snake eaters and while Pat had enough heavy armored experience to earn a modicum of respect from a tanker like Shinseki, he was picked for the army staff job because his experience with the Rangers and the more classified special-mission units made him a suitable horse whisperer for briefings to the SECDEF.

A few weeks after the fateful briefing, Pat was informed that his services were no longer needed on the army staff and that his selection to the War College had been revoked. Pat understood the message, and after twenty-two years of service he retired.

When Pat told his wife and four kids that he was retiring, they were thrilled. He had never intended to make the army a career, and his wife had never signed up for the challenges and sacrifices of military life. His plan had always been to serve a few years and then go to graduate school, but somehow he got hooked. As one of six kids growing up in South Boston, Pat’s holiday trips never took him any farther than the cold waters of Cape Cod. The outdoors and the action adventure lifestyle of a Ranger officer and eventually leader in the black-ops community suited Pat perfectly. Selected early for every field grade promotion, he was guaranteed a thirty-year career doing something he enjoyed. With the demands of the ongoing wars, he hadn’t given a thought to life outside the army in ages. Pat was weeks away from being a civilian, and he had absolutely no plan.

Pat realized that he had been an absentee father and husband for too long, so he declined the offers he received from the rapidly growing military-for-hire industry with firms like Blackwater and Triple Canopy. He was also turned off by the idea of working for one of the US defense firms and using his military contacts to sell stuff to the army.

Pat had an army buddy managing a division of Toll Brothers Home Building offer him a chance to interview for a position. It was a boom time for the industry; in 2004, builders couldn’t find enough experienced people. Pat always believed that preparation was the key to success, so before going down for an interview he did a lot of research. He eventually declined the job offer. The business appealed to Pat, but after his recent experience in the army, he wanted to avoid being part of a big organization and the inevitable politics that came with it. In the end, he decided he would be happier and have a much bigger financial upside if he went into the business alone. Pat started a home-building business that he named “Trident.”

Four years later, in September 2008, Pat was starting construction on the third house of his very own thirty-home subdivision when Lehman Brothers crashed. In the next ninety days, his net worth went from slightly over $6 million to a very ugly negative number. Pat had enough cash on hand to stay afloat for a little while, but every asset he owned was in free fall, and his cash inflow was reduced to the level of his army retirement. It wasn’t possible to reduce his expenses without derailing his children’s future. He had four kids in private school with two ready to start college. The Great Recession and the collapse of the housing market placed Pat in a very tough situation.

In January of 2009, Pat was working on his taxes while the executives from the world’s largest financial institutions were lining up for TARP money to bail them out. Pat had trouble understanding why the Ivy League masters of the universe who created the disaster were being bailed out by taxpayers like him. The next day after meeting with his accountant and learning that his 2008 income tax bill was going to be $94,000, Pat made a call to his old Ranger regiment commander who was vice president at one of the military-for-hire companies called MPRI. At the time, the US government was paying MPRI a little over half a billion dollars per year to provide roughly five hundred military advisers to the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).

A week after the call, Pat accepted a position to work as the adviser to the Afghanistan National Army 201st Corps commander. When Pat explained to his wife that he needed to take a position in Afghanistan, it did not go well. He tried his best to help her understand that it was a low-risk noncombat position and that it was his only option to pay the bills during the recession and keep the finances above water. The stress of the collapse of his business and near financial ruin had taxed his marriage. She told him taking the job in Afghanistan was a cop-out and that if he went, he would not be welcome back.

Pat did not blame his wife. For his nineteen years of married life in the military, he had often departed on deployments without being able to tell his wife where he was going or when he was coming back. Even worse, on many such operations he was prohibited from contacting his family. Pat could not count the number of missed birthdays, anniversaries, and kids’ events. During the debacle in Mogadishu, Somalia, Pat had not been in contact with his wife for fifteen weeks; she didn’t even know he was there until the unit primary notification team came to the door and explained to his tearful wife that Pat was seriously wounded. They asked her to pack immediately. A military transport was waiting to take her to an army hospital in Germany because there was a strong chance he was not going to make it. Although shot three times, Pat was the only member of his four-man team who survived that day. Feeling a bit sorry for himself, Pat found himself once again with his back to the wall in survival mode as he moved on from his failed marriage and his failed business and his failed military career and boarded a plane to Kabul, Afghanistan.

The 201st Corps was responsible for eleven of the thirty-two Afghanistan provinces. Everything from Kabul east to Pakistan fell under the control of the 201st Corps. Pat’s job was to advise the corps commander, Lieutenant General Wardak, and his staff on combat operations and coordination with the US forces in the 201st area of operation. The US forces at that time consisted of two US army brigades under the leadership of the Eighty-Second Airborne commander. It was not a very difficult job, because when it came to combat operations, the ANA avoided them at all costs which, as you would expect, also made the task of coordinating combat operations with the Americans considerably less complicated. Two weeks into the new job at ANA Camp Pol-e-Charki, Afghanistan, Pat received a call on his cell phone from his old friend Mike Guthrie.

Pat and Mike were lieutenants together at Fort Lewis with the Second Ranger Battalion back in the mideighties. Pat and Mike were both detached to JSOC and deployed to Central America in the late eighties during the proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union in a highly secret project that was called Blue Light. Both jumped into Rio Hato with the battalion during the seizure of the Commendacia as part of Operation Just Cause. After attending the Infantry Officer Advanced Course together, they were both sent off to mechanized infantry units, which sounds strange for guys with a ranger background, but back then it was a requirement designed to create well-rounded officers. During the first Gulf War, they were both company team commanders in separate armor units, Mike with the Second Armored Division based out of Fort Hood, Texas, and Pat with the First Armored Division based out of Bamberg, Germany. After Desert Storm, Mike and Pat were briefly reunited when they were invited to attend tryouts in West Virginia for the army’s premier special mission unit. Mike was injured during one of the orientation course events, and he departed the selection early. For the next seventeen years, they did not have any contact.

Pat lived at Camp Blackhorse, which was adjacent to Pol-e-Charki and home for two twelve-man Special Forces ODA teams and an eight-man marine regional advisory team that worked with the 201st. Pat met Mike that evening in the mess hall, and the two spent an hour catching up. Mike waited for the building to clear out before switching from the small talk. “I’ll bet you’re wondering how I knew you were in A-Stan, how I got your number, and why I reached out to you.”

“That’s a good guess,” said Pat.

Mike leaned forward. “I’m with the agency, attached to the embassy. Every adviser gets vetted before being hired, and I get a courtesy copy of the slate, which I review. When I saw your name on the list, I talked to a guy at ISAF. He talked to someone at MPRI and had you placed as the adviser for the 201st Corps commander.”

“Why did you do that?” asked Pat.

“General Wardak is a problem. I don’t know if he’s just corrupt, or if he’s Taliban, or if he’s both. I need a guy on the inside who can keep an eye on him. I think his actions are killing American soldiers, but until I can prove it, I can’t do anything about it.”

Pat didn’t bother to ask why he was selected, and Mike didn’t ask if he would accept the task. Despite the seventeen-year separation, they both knew the answers.

For the next few months Pat, the newly minted CIA asset, provided Mike evidence of widespread corruption involving Wardak and his staff. The scope of the corruption was astounding. More than 75 percent of the supplies provided to the 201st ANA by the US military were being resold on the black market. They treated fuel like currency. Even worse, more than 50 percent of the soldiers the United States was funding did not exist. Stealing the phantom payroll was the biggest moneymaker in Wardak’s business. What Pat found most disgusting was how they were skimming the death gratuities earmarked for the families of ANA soldiers killed in action. Pat used his CIA-supplied slush fund to cultivate several paid informants within the corps headquarters. His most reliable source was Major Ibrahim.

Major Ibrahim worked in the G3 operations shop. He was by far the most intelligent, talented, and competent officer in the corps. Highly literate, well educated, and fluent in English, Dari, Pashtun, French, and Uzbek, Ibrahim was the corps commander’s go-to guy for most planning activities. Like General Wardak, he was a Pashtun who grew up in Kabul and worked for both the Russians and the Taliban during their reigns. Ibrahim had a deviant lifestyle that included a penchant for boys and a serious drug habit that required a lot more income than a major’s salary of roughly US$400 per month allowed. Ibrahim supplemented his drug habit with gambling. He owned a bird that was the local fight champion for many months. Ibrahim’s retelling of the great victories of his bird were absolutely hysterical; the animation, passion, and sheer joy he derived from the barbaric sport was contagious. Repellent as it was, Pat found it impossible not to become engrossed in the blow-by-blow narration of the bird’s gladiatorial triumphs. Ibrahim and his killer bird had a great run until the fateful day in April when it was killed by an underdog contender. That was when Pat stepped in to help the distraught drug-addicted pederast.

On May 1, 2009, a small observation post in Kunar Province named Bari Ali was attacked. What made the battle unusual was that the first shots were fired from inside the perimeter. A simultaneous volley of RPG-7s killed the entire NATO force instantly. Three American and two Latvian soldiers died in their sleep when the rockets hit their B- huts. Three ANA soldiers loyal to the Americans were also killed in the attack. The remaining twelve ANA soldiers were collaborators and escaped with the Taliban. A day after the defeat, Ibrahim told Pat the attack was ordered by General Wardak as a reprisal against the Americans for closing his toll stations on Jalalabad Road. J-bad Road is the only highway that runs east-west between Kabul and the Khyber Pass, which is the entrance to Pakistan. The distance from Kabul to the Pakistan border was 145 miles, and all of it was within the 201st area of operations. Most of the supplies coming into Afghanistan by land traveled along J-bad Road, and a typical convoy could expect to be stopped no fewer than five times along the road by ANA troops and forced at gunpoint to pay a toll.

Ibrahim explained that Wardak’s plan was to attack select small base camps to force the Americans to reduce patrols and cause them to withdraw to reinforce existing encampments. During his campaign in 2008, Obama promised a surge of US troops into Afghanistan, and now that it was almost complete, the thirty thousand additional troops were interfering in Wardak’s business. Wardak was merely using the tools at his disposal to shape the business environment. His alliance with the Taliban was not ideological; it was commercial. Pat provided the information to Mike and requested authorization to act. Mike told him to stand by while he reported the matter to his bosses in DC.

A rage was growing within Pat that he had not experienced in his earlier tours in either Afghanistan or Iraq. As a JSOTF commander, the elite SOF teams he served with lived and operated in isolation from regular forces, both American and local. During the day, they would plan and rehearse inside the confines of isolated well-secured camps. At night, the teams would insert, often via helicopter, executing lightning-fast raids to kill or capture high-value targets and then return to base, sometimes within hours. There were some local military and police who participated in the raids, but they were a very small number of specially vetted personnel who were rarely briefed on most of the details. The corruption and treachery Pat was witnessing within the 201st Corps was a completely foreign experience, and it was infuriating him.


About me

James Lawrence has been a soldier, small business owner, military advisor, and international arms dealer. He spent twenty years in the US Army and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He is a veteran of two wars, commanded at both the company and battalion level, and served with the Seventy-Fifth Ranger Regiment, among others. After Lawrence retiring from the military, Lawrence worked as a military advisor and as an executive in the defense industry.

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