23RD MARCH + 0225 HRS
The splattering of sparks on the ridgeline caused Muzammil and his lieutenants to look up just as the Jaguar strike aircraft streaked out of the valley in a blur. The thunderclap from the explosion ripped past Muzammil and his men and left the trees swaying under its force…
“What was that?!” One of the senior lieutenants exclaimed in Pashtu. Muzammil realized he had never got used to the language of his afghan veterans despite the years they had been with his outfit. He shook his head as the other afghan mujahedeen in his group spoke excitedly with each other just as secondary explosions lit up the sky from the former Pakistani army ammo dump. Tracers were still flying into the sky as the rumble of aircraft echoed through the valleys long after the actual aircraft had left.
” Muzammil thundered, bringing silence within the excited men around him. “Go see to your men!”
“The Indians have taken over the skies!” Muzammil’s aide noted as he made sense of the dozens of back and forth conversations happening over his small radio. “We cannot get our men to move on the roads to the border!”
Muzammil frowned. This was the day they had planned for years. Open jihad in Kashmir alongside his colleagues in the Pak army. And yet the infidels had seized the initiative and were laying waste to all logistics behind the Pakistani frontline positions on the LOC. Indian artillery rockets were pummeling the Pakistani positions by shooting and moving before they could be subjected to counter fire. And the Indians had decimated the Pakistani aircraft stationed in the Kashmir mountains in a staggering escalation of events that neither Muzammil nor Rawalpindi had anticipated. The net result was that they were choking the movement of the thousands of gathered jihadis out of Deosai and other areas.
“If only we could get to the front lines in force, we could overwhelm the kaffirs!” Muzammil muttered under his breath as he unrolled the paper map on the hood of the Toyota parked by the roadside. He unshouldered his Kalashnikov and put it on the hood as well while his commanders gathered around him. He looked at them before speaking: “We must find a way to move forward, despite the cursed enemy aircraft and artillery! We will disperse and move on foot if we have to. They cannot catch us when we are off the roads.”
“It worked in Afghanistan and it will work here,” his former Afghan commander noted. Muzammil liked this man who had led his cadres alongside the Pashtuns when they had overwhelmed Kabul’s forces along the eastern Afghan border two years ago. The man had sacrificed the life of many, but had also delivered is objectives. And Muzammil had seen for himself the massacre of those Afghan soldiers who had the misfortune to be taken alive by the Pashtuns. It had made Muzammil shudder. And that was saying something, considering the blood on his hands. Muzammil had long since decided to listen to this man for military advice.
“How long before the men can move through the forests to the Indian positions?” Muzammil said and both men peered at the maps given to them by the Pakistani army. It showed all Indian positions and strengths along the border. Such information had been gathered in detail by the military intelligence services of the army and handed to Muzammil and his commanders to allow them to launch surprise attacks against isolated or weak Indian positions and overwhelm them, allowing the Pak army to move forward.
Muzammil’s afghan commander stared intently at the map and then nodded as he stroked his beard. He then faced Muzammil: “I anticipate two days for all our…”
The splatter of blood on his face caught Muzammil by surprise and he shuddered from it, utterly shocked, as the body of his afghan commander slumped to the ground, splattering his brain nearby.
Captain Kamidalla lowered his multi-caliber rifle from shoulder level and peered intently through the night optics to make sure the target package was alive and kicking before activating comms just as the cacophony of rifle fire picked up all around them:
“Pathfinder-two here. The chicken are riled up but the rooster is still up and about!”
Kamidalla peered through the optics of his rifle again and took aim. He could see Muzammil’s men firing in all directions around their parked Toyotas. They had no inkling of who or what had engaged them and from where. Three of their commanders were now laying in a pool of blood and Muzammil had taken cover behind the open door of his vehicle, not knowing that he was in full sights of Kamidalla two hundred meters away in the trees…
Kamidalla put his index finger on the trigger of his rifle whilst putting the red dot on the head of Muzammil, clearly shaking and shivering. Inside his green-black night-view, Kamidalla could see dark, black stains on the man’s face as well as the military jacket he was wearing. Blood stains.
“What’s the status of the rooster?” Pathanya’s calm voice came through on Kamidalla’s inter-team comms. Kamidalla lowered his rifle and looking at the vehicles taking fire from the rest of Pathfinder team.
“Shaking but alive.”
“Good,” Pathanya noted. “Let him keep shivering for the next few minutes. Keep your eyes on him, -two. And keep us informed if makes a break for it. Will advise when we are good to go. Out.”
Pathanya and two of the other Pathfinder men moved past the bushes, three hundred meters to the west, one arm holding their rifles at shoulder level and the other hand used to move the odd branches and scrubs out of the way. They took deliberate steps to prevent any sudden movements. Despite that caution, they moved gradually to the east. From his night-vision optics, Pathanya could see the two mud huts directly in front of him. These were silhouetted black against the flashes of white from the rifle fire that Muzammil’s men were firing to the south of the road just beyond the huts. Save for Kamidalla, whose sole job was to keep his eyes glued on Muzammil, the remaining eight Pathfinder team members were keeping a solid base of fire on the dozen pickup trucks and larger five-tonner trucks which made up Muzammil’s command group.
It was a basic whack-the-bush strategy designed to channel a surprised and scared enemy in a direction productive to the attackers. Kamidalla being the crack shot on the team had delivered that initial shock and had the desired effect on Muzammil, just as Basu’s men had predicted it would. The main Pathfinder force was now directing accurate rifle fire against the LeT security troops from the south of the east-west road south of the mud huts…
“Panther, this is Pathfinder,” Pathanya spoke into his comms mouthpiece as he stepped past the stepping rocks on a shallow, icy fjord. He saw his two men on either side, a dozen meters away.
“Panther reads you five-by-five, Pathfinder.” Jagat responded as though running a peacetime operation. His calm under pressure at a time when Pathanya could literally hear his own heart pumping in his chest was utterly remarkable and worthy of the man’s reputation. It allowed Pathanya to ease up. Confidence under fire was contagious.
“Panther, Pathfinder is in play and under fire. Eyes on target package acquired in convoy behind first vehicle. Do not touch that area. Light up the back vehicles!”
“Roger. Panther is detaching leopard to play merry hell! Out!”
Pathanya tightened his rifle into his shoulder closer and switched comms: “Pathfinder-one here. Watch your backs and make sure the viz beacons are active. Leopard is entering the fight!”
Their first inkling of the combat helicopters of Leopard flight entering the battle was when three fireballs rose into the sky and sent three trucks at the back end of the convoy flying in pieces in all directions. Pathanya instantly knelled along with his two other men as the orange-yellow flames of the convoy rendered a hellish glow on the valley followed soon after by the strikes of more unguided rockets further south of the road. Pathanya heard the rumble of the helicopters as they streaked overhead. Tracers raced after the fast helicopters as the survivors of Muzammil’s security troops struggled to meet the new and sudden threat in the skies above them. It was a nightmarish sight to behold even for battle-hardened soldiers such as Pathanya. For someone like Muzammil, more used to ordering people to their deaths in battle rather than enduring the same, it was just too much…
“Rooster is moving
! Making a run for it!” Kamidalla’s urgent voice came through on the comms. Pathanya was almost about to chime in asking for directions but Kamidalla beat him to the punch: “
“Northwest! Northwest! Northwest! Go! Go! Go!
Pathanya jerked his head to the see the silhouette of a man run past the orange-black glow of the mud huts into the woods to their east. He immediately got up and splashed past the fjord and into the woods as fast as he could, breaking branches and slipping over the icy stones along the way. He made quick progress on his evasive enemy. Kamidalla’s voice chimed in again: “Target moving west now! Heading towards you!”
Pathanya saw the confused Muzammil run towards him, not knowing he was being pursued. He finally saw Pathanya and his two men a dozen meters away and stood in shock. Pathanya saw him raise his AK-47 just in time to hit the dirt:
Muzammil let the three men have it at full blast, firing the ready clip from the hip. The bullets went on a wide arc trajectory and slapped into the trees and branches all around Pathanya and his men, showering them with broken branches and snow. But the frenzied fire and the rough terrain meant that no accuracy could be attained by Muzammil. In a few seconds his rifle clicked on empty chambers. He looked at the rifle in surprise and instead of reloading, threw it on the snow and began running further up the slope.
Pathanya got up on his feet and ran after him. He had noticed that he was alone at the moment as one of his men had taken a bullet in his leg and was down where he lay. The other team member was no-where to be seen… You are not getting away, you ba$tard!
Pathanya ran up the hill, sweating as he did so. He heard the whiz of bullets flying past his head and crouched behind a tree trunk to see another of Muzammil’s men clambering up the hill in his salwar-kameez, firing a G-3 rifle as he struggled through the snow. Your boss isn’t expendable. But you are!
He brought up his MCIWS rifle to shoulder level and fired a three-round burst. The bearded jihadi fell face down into the snow with his hands stretched and his back pooling with blood.
“You are going to miss him! Go! Go!” Kamidalla’s voice shouted in Pathanya’s ears.
Pathanya let out a breath and forced himself up again to see Muzammil further up the slope. But it was clear to Pathanya that the man was not nearly in the kind of fit shape required to outrun the Indian Para-SF soldiers on a slippery countryside at night. He made quick progress on him until he was almost behind the man. Muzammil knew what was in store and tried to turn, but slipped in the process. As he lay on his back, he saw the sweating face of Pathanya walk up to him.
By now Muzammil was a wretched, miserable man, not worthy of Pathanya’s honor. Pathanya pointed the barrel of his rifle to the man’s temple: “You son of a bitch!
Do you know how many people are dead because of you? Do you?
Muzammil realized that he was going to be taken alive. This allowed him to recover some of his composure. “Not enough! We will kill you all
before this war is complete, as Allah is my witness!”
Pathanya growled and reversed his rifle and let Muzammil have it in the chest with his rifle butt. Muzammil shrieked like he had been gutted and splattered blood from his mouth on to the snow as he rolled on his stomach.
“Pathfinder, this is Panther!” The comms squawked. “Do you have
the package or not?”
Pathanya took a few seconds to catch his breath as he turned to see his other team member helping the third man limp over to Pathanya’s position. To the south, he could see the raging fires from the back end of the truck convoy and the three LCHs of Leopard flight streaking through the valley looking for targets.
“Roger!” He said finally over his huffing and puffing. “Package is secure and alive! I say again, package is secure! Panther, get us out of here!”
“Panther to Leopard. You heard Pathfinder. We don’t need you holding back anything anymore. Kill any and all
ba$tards left alive!
Pathanya heard the crews of Leopard respond by firing salvos of unguided fin-stabilized rockets into all of the remaining trucks in the convoy on the road. Most of the vehicles burst to pieces under the impacts, sending shards flying in all directions…
“Pathfinder, collate your units and establish perimeter! Hold and secure. We are coming to you! Out.”