Ian Slater: Choke Point

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Ian Slater Choke Point
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    Choke Point
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Choke Point: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The fight against terrorism has reached the next level — and now America will go to war. A series of cataclysmic events is exploding around the world. Two divisions of Chinese ground troops move against a neighboring Muslim nation, while a provocation unleashes generations of pent-up violence between the mainland and Taiwan. With U.S. troops still on the ground in the Middle East and “Ganistan,” and an American president forced by rapidly unfolding events to make decisions on the fly, the most dangerous threat is the one no one sees. For off the fog-shrouded coast of Washington State, a staggering attack will flood the Northwest with American refugees and force the bravest and the best of U.S. Special Forces under the toughest of the tough, General Douglas Freeman, into a pitched, desperate battle to find a shadow enemy — before he strikes the next terrifying blow against the United States.

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Ian Slater



Direct Action Mission A039 2:00 a.m., Khyber Pass, northeastern Afghanistan

Fast-roping down from the hot, oily smell of the Pave Low chopper into the Stygian darkness of a frigid ravine, seven U.S. Special Force commandos ran quickly out of the downblast over snow-dusted rocks toward a six-foot-high, three-foot-wide fissure in the sheer rock face — the mouth of the suspect cave. Pausing fifty feet from the entrance, the Alpha strike trio, with veteran commander and Medal of Honor winner Captain David Brentwood on point, checked out the closet-sized opening through the thermal sights of their Heckler & Koch flame- and sound-suppressed machine guns. Bravo, the backup squad of four commandos, was comprised of Eddie Merton, armed with the team’s Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), two men carrying M-4 carbines, and Jamal “Jam” Hassim, the only Muslim-American in the team, toting a shotgun. The seven-man team of Alpha and Bravo waited two minutes, an eternity in the gritty, dust-smelling darkness. Radiant heat seeping from the cave showed up as white splotches against the emerald green of the commandos’ night vision goggles, as did the infrared ID tape on their helmets, sleeves, and ankles.

There was no sign of guards. The seven men waited until they were sure that no one in the area had been unduly aroused by the sound of the Pave Low; that any al Qaeda present would, it was hoped, dismiss it as yet another of the Allied helos that periodically skirted the towering peaks of the Hindu Kush, flying westward through the Khyber Pass into Kapisa Province and on to the armor-friendly plains north of Kabul. Even in the icy wind chill, several of the commandos were sweating beneath the weight of their mission-specific gear, which included ammo load/assault vest packs, flash bang grenades, additional mags, flashlight pouch, camelback water bladder, night vision goggles, black Nomex gloves, balaclava, Beretta 9mm sidearms, and the beloved miscellaneous gadget bags attached to each man’s load vest.

Satisfied there was no movement nearby, six of the seven-man team — three on either side — entered the cave. The seventh man, Eddie Merton, armed with the SAW and responsible for operating the team’s HF radio, SATCOM unit, and cell phone, took up position as planned at the entrance to the cave. Thermal Satscans, in satellite overflights, had shown that the entry widened immediately beyond its opening, snaking its way for four hundred feet into the rock below a razorback ridge. As the two three-man squads moved cautiously forward in the cave, Eddie placed his SAW against a two-foot-high rock by the entrance and popped his “baby umbrella”—the black double crisscross SATCOM antenna. He then took cover behind the boulder, from where he could best serve as the DA team’s rear guard during the snatch and grab. For a while, at least, he could maintain communications with Brentwood and the other five, each equipped with Saver FM radio and earphone.

Inside the cave, the air was damp, sour, the rock floor strewn with thousands of marble-sized pebbles blown in throughout the ages by the fiercely frigid winds that swirled through the mountain fastness of the Hindu Kush. Despite the weight of their packs, the commandos’ footsteps were all but silenced by the U.S. Special Forces’ state-of-the-art overboots. Made of black, oil-impregnated leather, Spandex, and slow-recovery foam, they muffled the sound of the commandos’ approach. David Brentwood knew that soon there would be no reliable radio contact with Merton because of the serpentine nature of the cave. He glanced at his watch and whispered into his throat mike. They had been down for three minutes. “Exfil 0230.”

“Exfil 0230,” confirmed Merton. It meant they had exactly twenty-seven minutes before the Pave Low returned to exfiltrate the team. Now that the ambient starlight that had been boosted over three million times by their night vision goggles was no longer available, the green monochrome faded, and the Direct Action Team switched on the tiny infrared light at the front of the helmet-mounted monocular unit.

Coming to a dogleg where the cave suddenly narrowed, Bravo held back so as not to crowd Brentwood’s strike trio, whose sole purpose was to find Li Kuan — if he was there. A former and corrupt middle manager from NORINCO, the Chinese government’s arms export company, Kuan’s sole purpose was to sell Osama bin Laden’s successors depleted uranium for a dirty anti-Satan bomb, a conventionally exploded nuclear waste device that would spew out deadly uranium dust over the terrorist’s American city of choice. Li Kuan, the commandoes had been told, should be easily identifiable from a pockmarked scalp, reportedly the result of a sulfuric acid-tube timer for a nitrate bomb that had prematurely exploded when he was instructing his al Qaeda clients.

In fact, Brentwood had been one of the thirty-eight Americans who’d had the misfortune of witnessing both the nitrate bomb explosion in Oklahoma City in 1995 and, on furlough in New York City in 2001, the first of the 9/11 hits on the World Trade Center. His sister’s husband, a bosom buddy, had been one of the scores of firefighters cremated alive when the South Tower imploded. And Jam Hassim had lost a cousin, a U.S. Army sergeant, in the attack on the Pentagon. Knowing this, General Oakley, of Special Operations Command, told David’s team that their anger was “a good motivator. But remember,” he’d added, “the mission isn’t to waste this prick Li. It’s to snatch him, bring him back so Intel can have a ’quiet’ word with the bastard. The Chinese say he’s also trying to sell his dirty bomb stuff to terrorists in the province of Xinjiang. So you’ll save a lot more people if we get him alive. Understood?”

They had, and they’d studied the computer-enhanced photo of Li that Beijing had sent, the only one available. It seemed to them, however, that, aside from the pockmarked bald head, the face was so indistinguishable, it could have belonged to any one of a billion Asians or Eurasians. The team had completed their refresher “run-throughs” at Delta Force’s “killing house” at Special Operations facilities at Fort Bragg, where they had also undergone — no, survived, Brentwood would have said — the forty-meter inverted crawl in twenty-five seconds; the thirty-three pushups in a minute; the grueling two-mile, seventeen-minute runs in full gear; and the “lovely” hundred-meter swim while fully clothed and in assault boots. Only then would they have met the exacting standards laid down for them by the legendary, now retired, General Douglas Freeman.

Only thirty feet into the cave, Brentwood paused, sensing movement, his hand signals taking over the job of whispered throat mike instructions. Rats scuttled left and right, the stench of the cave now laced with the odor of roasting goat. Jam Hassim could feel warm eddies of air gently brushing the sliver of exposed skin between his NVGs and balaclava. But as yet there was no wood or charcoal odor, no whiff of kerosene, and no white splotch in the NVGs that would indicate the source of the warmth. Perhaps the eddies he’d felt were body heat, Hassim thought. But whose?

The team was trained for speed and daring, but, when needed, caution — all seven commandos were alert for booby traps. He motioned the team forward. They had been down from the Pave Low for only eight minutes. Nineteen to go, and lots to do. Satisfied that the only noise he’d heard was that of the rodents, he checked his watch. After ten paces, though, he thought he heard voices, faint, maybe twenty feet farther in, and signaled the men to stop.

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