Andy McNab

OCTOBER 30, 1979-APRIL 15, 1999


OCTOBER 16. 1995

The Syrians don't fuck around if they think you're invading their air space. Within minutes of crossing the border, your aircraft will be greeted by a three-ship intercept, flying so close you can wave at the pilots. They won't wave back; they've come to get a visual ID on you, and if they don't like what they see they'll hose you down with their air to-air missiles.

The same rule doesn't apply, of course, when friendly commercial aircraft blip onto their radar screens, and that was why our team of four had opted for this particular method of infiltration. If Damascus had had the slightest clue about what was about to happen aboard our British Airways flight from Delhi to London, their fighters would have been scrambled the moment the Boeing 747 left Saudi Arabian territory.

I was twisting and turning, trying to get comfortable, feeling jealous of all the people sitting upstairs behind the driver, probably on their fifth gin and tonic since take off, watching their second movie and tucking into their third helping ofboeufen croute.

Reg 1 was in front of me. Six feet two, and built like a brick shithouse, he was probably having an even worse time in the cramped conditions.

His curly black hair, going a bit gray at the sides, was all over the place. Like me, before I left in '93, he had been selected to do work for the intelligence and security services, including the sort of job for the U.S. that Congress would never sanction. I had done similar jobs myself while in the Regiment, but this was the first I'd been on since becoming a K. Given who we were going in against, none of us was giving odds on whether we'd get to do another.

I glanced across at Sarah, to my right in the semidarkness. Her eyes were closed, but even in the dim light I could see she wasn't looking her happiest. Maybe she just didn't like flying without complimentary champagne and slippers.

It had been a while since I'd last seen her, and the only thing about her that had changed was her hair. It was still very straight, almost Southeast Asian, though dark brown, not black. It had always been short, but she'd prepared for this operation by having it cut into a bob with a fringe.

She had strong, well-defined features, with large brown eyes above high cheekbones, a nose that was slightly too large, and a mouth that nearly always looked too serious. Sarah would not be troubled in her old age by laughter lines. When it was genuine, her smile was warm and friendly, but more often it appeared to be only going through the motions. And yet, just when you were thinking this, she'd find the oddest thing amusing and her nose would twitch, and her whole face would crease into a radiant, almost childlike, grin. At times like that she looked even more beautiful than usual maybe too beautiful. That was sometimes a danger in our line of work, as men could never resist a second glance, but at thirty-five years of age she had learned to use her looks to her advantage within the service. It made her even more of a bitch than most people thought she was.

It was no good, I couldn't get comfortable. We'd been on the aircraft for nearly fifteen hours and my body was starting to ache. I turned and tried the left side. I couldn't see Reg 2, but I knew he was to my left in the gloom somewhere. He was easy to distinguish from Reg 1, being the best part of a foot shorter and with hair that looked like a fistful of dark-blond wire wool. The only thing I knew about them apart from their zap numbers was that, like me, they had both been circumcised within the last three weeks and that, like mine, their underwear came from Tel Aviv. And that was all I wanted to know about them, or about Regs 3 to 6 who were already in-country, waiting for us even though one of them, Glen, was an old friend.

I found myself facing Sarah again. She was rubbing her eyes with her fists, like a sleepy child. I tried to doze off; thirty minutes later I was still kidding myself I was asleep when I got a kick on the back of my legs. It was Sarah.

I sat up in my sleeping bag and peered into the semidarkness. Three loadies (load masters) were moving around with orienteering lights attached to their heads, glowing a dim red so as not to destroy our night vision.

Each of them had an umbilical cord trailing from his face mask, and their hands moved instinctively to make sure it didn't get snagged or detached from the aircraft's oxygen supply.

I unzipped the bag and, even through my all-weather sniper suit, immediately felt the freezing cold in the unpressurized 747 cargo hold. None of the passengers or cabin crew would have known there were people down here, tucked away in the belly of the aircraft. Nor would our names have appeared anywhere on a manifest.

I folded the bag in half, leaving inside the two 'aircrew bags' I'd filled during the flight--plastic bags with a one-way valve that you insert yourself into and piss away to your heart's content. I wondered how Sarah had been getting on. It was bad enough for me because my cock was still extremely sore, but it must be hard being female aircrew on a long flight with a device designed only for males--and the female commander of a deniable op. I put a Post-It on my mental bulletin board, reminding myself to ask her how she got around the problem. That was if we survived, of course, and were still on speaking terms.

I could never remember which was starboard or port; all I knew was that, as you looked at the aircraft from the front, we were in the small hold at the rear and the door was on the left-hand side. I clutched my oxygen tube as a loadie crossed over it, and adjusted my mask as his leg caught it, pulling it slightly from my face. The inside was wet, clammy and cold now the seal had been broken.

I picked up my Car 15, a version of the M16 Armalite 5.56mm with a telescopic butt and a shorter barrel, cocked it and applied the safety. The Car had a length of green para cord tied to it like a sling; I strapped it over my left shoulder so the barrel faced down and it ran along the rear of my body. The rig (parachute) would go over that.

I pushed my hand under the sniper suit to get hold of the Beretta 9mm that was on a leg holster against my right thigh. I cocked that, too, and pulled back the top slide a few millimeters to check the chamber. Turning the weapon so it caught one of the loadies' red glows, I saw the glint of a correctly fed round, ready to go.

This was my first 'false flag' job posing as a member of Israeli special forces, and as I adjusted my leg straps I wished I'd had a little more time to recover from the circumcision. It hadn't healed as quickly as we'd been told. I looked around me as we got our kit on, hoping the others were in as much pain.

We were about to carry out a 'lift' to find out what the West's new bogeyman, Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi multimillionaire turned terrorist, was getting up to in Syria. Satellite photography had shown earth moving and other heavy equipment from Bin Laden's construction company near the source of the river Jordan. Downstream lay Israel, and if its main source of water was about to be dammed, diverted or otherwise tampered with, the West needed to know. They feared a repeat of the 1967 war, and with Bin Laden around it was never going to be a good day out. He hadn't been dubbed America's 'public enemy number one' by Clinton for nothing.

Our task was to lift Osama's right-hand man known to us only as the 'Source' for op sec (operational security) reasons from on site. His private jet had been spotted at a nearby airfield. The U.S. needed to know what was happening in Syria, and, more to the point, maybe learn how to lay their hands on Osama. As the briefing guy had said, 'Bin Laden represents a completely new phenomenon: non-state-supported terrorism backed by an extremely rich and religiously motivated leader with an intense hatred of the West, mainly America, as well as Israel and the secular Arab world.

He must be stopped.'

Once ready and checked by the loadies, it was just a question of holding on to the airframe and waiting. There was nothing to do for the next few minutes but daydream or get scared. Each of us was in his or her own little world now. Before any operation some people are frightened, some are excited. Now and again I could see reflections from the red flashlights in people's eyes; they were staring at their boots or at some other fixed point, maybe thinking about their wives, or girlfriends, or kids, or what they were going to do after this, or maybe even wondering what the fuck they were doing here in the first place.

Me, I didn't know what to think really. I'd never been able to get sparked up about the thought of dying and

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