Tony Delgado never heard the incoming automatic weapons fire until his world exploded around him. Crack, phitt, the first round whistled past his ear. Tat-tat-tat - phitt, zing, zing, a staccato burst, another close miss, two ricochets. Bullet-blasted rocks stung his cheek. Tony wiped blood from his face and feared he might not celebrate his twenty-eighth birthday. “Shit!” he exclaimed, grabbing his M16 and floppy camouflage hat, containing his most treasured possession.
“Haul ass, buddy!” Tony’s internal survival voice screamed at him. He leaped from his rocky outpost, attempting to outrun his fate.
Six thousand miles away at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Agent John Gillen sat inside a darkened, console-lit room, viewing Pakistan’s mountainous terrain from two thousand feet above, like a hunting hawk seeking prey. Using GPS coordinates Delgado had transmitted, he searched for his target: a band of enemy fighters whom Delgado had identified as a high-value target, sitting outside a cave. Gillen skillfully maneuvered an unmanned Predator drone using a joystick, not unlike one his children use to play their video games. Gillen mulled over his absurd situation. Earlier that morning, as his neighbors left their driveways going to work on the Hill in D.C., or at the high-tech companies dominating northern Virginia’s suburban corporate parks, Gillen drove off to war. He thought, forget about the supermarket shopping list Jean stuffed in your pocket and focus on your mission!
“Got it!” Gillen exclaimed, finally spotting the Al Qaeda encampment on the tiny aircraft’s real-time video system. His brow furrowed and his heart raced as he concentrated, lining up the Predator for the kill.
“Okay, shoot when ready,” a voice said from behind. Biting his lip, Gillen pressed the button releasing one of the drone’s two Hellfire missiles. He grimaced, watching the group suddenly dash inside the cave, led by a white robed figure, taller than the rest. “Damn!” exclaimed senior agent Stephen Andrews, looking over Gillen’s shoulder. “What the hell spooked them?” he asked, rhetorically. Seconds later they watched the cave disappear, obliterated in a violent smoky explosion. Gillen circled the drone for a second shot, but when the smoke cleared no human targets appeared within the rocky rubble at the cave entrance. Telemetry data indicated the drone’s fuel supply was low, so he guided the small craft toward its secret Afghanistan base. “Nice try,” said Andrews, patting Gillen’s back as he left the room. “I’ll tell the boss what happened.”
“Thanks, Steve,” sighed Gillen, frustrated. He took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair and loosened his tie. Salty perspiration stung his blue eyes and he wiped his brow. He stared at the blank monitor. I hope Tony gets out alive, he prayed. Several minutes later he pulled out his wife’s shopping list and read her orders.
Tony heard the Hellfire missile’s booming explosion as he scrambled for his life, hoping his impending death would not be in vain. But he did not realize the shots, which had nearly killed him, had also alerted the targeted group, and they had scrambled safely into their cave. Tat-tat-tat-tat. Pfitt-pfitt-zing-zing. More automatic small-arms fire whistled past his head. Some ricocheted, spraying deadly lead. He spun, fired a burst toward his pursuers and then ran toward a rock outcropping, which promised temporary safety. Pausing to catch his breath, sucking hot dusty air, Tony reflected how his promising mission had turned deadly, so quickly.