PARTIDO DE BAHÍA BLANCA, ARGENTINA
He was a Scorpion.
First Ensign Salvio was never more proud of that fact than now. He checked his watch.
Three minutes to target.
Like his men, he was kitted out in body armor, a leg-holstered Glock 17 pistol, an M4A1 carbine, and a ballistic ATE Kevlar helmet with night-vision goggles.
The noise of the whining twin turboshafts of the EC145 Eurocopter filled the dimly lit cabin. His platoon of special operators of Grupo Alacrán—Scorpion Group—was the best unit in the Gendarmería Nacional Argentina. Maybe the whole country.
Grupo Alacrán was Argentina’s primary antiterror weapon. Like Israel’s Yamam—the elite police unit with whom Salvio’s team had trained in the Ayalon Valley—his men were the bleeding tip of the spear.
Salvio flashed three fingers to his trusted number two, Sergeant-Adjutant Acuña, who acknowledged with a nod and a feral grin. The two of them cut their teeth fighting armed Mafia gangs and Islamic radicals in La Triple Frontera, the border region where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina collided. Long a bastion of drugs, guns, and human trafficking by international and indigenous gangs, the region’s violence and crime grew worse each year. The Lebanon civil war drove tens of thousands of Lebanese to the region, and with them, Hezbollah.
And with Hezbollah came Iran.
Hell, even Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed had visited La Triple Frontera years ago.
His government couldn’t root them out. Couldn’t even stem the tide. But after OBL appeared on scene, American money and technology flooded in and brought the war on terror to La Triple Frontera. Kept the cancer contained for a few years. But then the Americans turned their attention elsewhere and now Hezbollah was on the move again. South.
Tonight’s mission was proof of that.
GNA intelligence had spotted a Lebanese Hezbollah commander two days ago, and CIA confirmed. But the CIA confirmation yesterday of an actual Iranian Quds Force commander on the ground near the coastal city of Bahía Blanca put blood in their mouths.
Against his government’s protests, a gathering of Hasidic youth in Bahía Blanca was scheduled for next week. Hundreds of young Jewish people from all over the country would attend. A perfect target.
And an Iranian Quds Force commander to lead the attack.
Hezbollah had killed in his country before. More than a hundred Jews in two separate bombing attacks in the nineties. And they’d promised to do it again. The two terrorists were holed up at a small abandoned horse ranch just twenty-six kilometers north of the city. “Capture them—alive” was his only order, straight from the mouth of the comandante mayor. A chance to finally break the Hezbollah network, he said. And to knock the bastard Iranians back on their heels.
So they saddled up at their base in Ciudad Evita, loading out three helicopters with twenty-three of his best troopers. The three Eurocopters took three different flight vectors, avoiding direct routes from the base to the target. He was pushing the EC145 range limit to the maximum but there was no point in making it easy for any shoulder-fired MANPADS the tangos might have with them. His aircraft would need a refuel for the flight back for sure.
“Two minutes out,” the pilot said in Salvio’s headset. He glanced around the cabin. Tarabini, Gallardo, Zanetti, Crispo, Birkner, Hermann. His boys were young but well trained, good shooters and duros. They met his eyes with con dent smiles. They were like hungry wolves in a pack.
“Kill the lights,” he told the pilot. The dim red bulbs extinguished.
Salvio switched his comms channel. “Bravo One, this is Alpha One. Sitrep.”
His sniper team—a shooter and spotter posted a kilometer away in the flat, open field surrounding the ranch—replied. “Eyes on. No movement. Lights out. Good to go, sir.”
“ETA ninety seconds,” Salvio said, adding in English, “Stay frosty!” He logged off. Like every other Argentinian man his age, he grew up on American movies, but it was his Black Hat jump instructor at Fort Benning who’d first barked that order at him.
Time to rock ’n’ roll.
Based on drone surveillance photos shot the day before, Salvio ordered the pilots to put down in a NATO “Y” formation at twelve, four, and eight o’clock relative to the broken-down main house. The only trees in the area were a few dense mesquites surrounding the house, partially blocking the view of the windows. Fence rails were down in several places, and a few ramshackle outbuildings were scattered around the now horseless ranch that had seen better days.
Each Eurocopter flared in near perfect sync to just a meter above the hard-packed dirt one hundred meters from the house. Salvio jumped first. His men followed, boots hitting the ground on a dead run. The choppers roared away and took up overwatch, circling high and wide as the Scorpion operators raced toward the main house. Beneath the moonless blue-black sky, the ancient farmhouse was a gray shadow.
Salvio landed at the four o’clock. He whispered orders into his comms for the advance of the rest of his team, knowing full well his men could do it without him.
“Bravo One, we’re on the ground,” Salvio said. “Watch your fire.”
“We have your back, sir.” The sniper team was positioned at six o’clock, the big Barrett M95 directly opposite the front door, ready to put a .50 BMG slug through any cabrón that stepped into its night-vision glass.
Salvio’s squad advanced at a slow, crouching trot, as did the others. Out in the open on the flat, grassy plains there was little chance of finding cover, so dropping in close was the only choice. He’d chosen the night, hoping the fighters inside didn’t have night-vision capabilities.
The twenty-four troopers closed in rapidly from three directions, weapons high, rounds chambered, safeties off. Heavy boots thudded onto the rickety wraparound porch, where the squads split up, stacking on either side of windows and both doors, front and back. Flash-bangs were pulled. Salvio took the front door. Arab music blared from a tinny radio inside. He whispered another order into his comms. Flash-bangs crashed through window glass in six places simultaneously. The men closed their eyes and opened their mouths just as the grenades detonated.
Doors crashed open under their boots and Scorpions poured through into darkened rooms. The tactical light on Salvio’s Glock 17 illumined the living room, as did the swiftly panning lights on the carbines around him.
“Clear!” one of his sargentos shouted from the back of the house. Other shouts of “Clear!” soon followed. Soon, Acuña appeared, disappointment in his flash-lit eyes.
“All clear, sir. Nobody’s home.”
Salvio swore as he holstered his pistol. Where the hell were these bastards?
“Aquí!” a man shouted from the kitchen. Salvio and Acuña dashed in. Private Gallardo’s lighted weapon pointed at the floor inside a small pantry closet. A trap door. Salvio tore it open and pulled out his pistol, activated the tac light on the barrel.
“Gallardo, Hermann, with me,” Salvio ordered as he dropped into the darkened tunnel.
Salvio and the others returned to the kitchen entrance empty-handed. The tunnel ran seventy or so meters to an empty outbuilding. The terrorists must have fled from there, out of sight of his sniper team.
Salvio checked in with the chopper pilots on his comms, all deploying night vision and thermal imaging. “See anything?”
“No, sir. Not even a rabbit.”
He was supposed to report the capture of the two terrorists to the comandante mayor as soon as it happened. The old man would be pissed. All he had in his hands at the moment was his own swinging dick. Not exactly what HQ was hoping for.
Salvio barked orders. He’d tear the place apart for intelligence. Maybe come away with something to show for their efforts.
They ripped through the house front to back, flipping mattresses, tossing drawers, pulling rugs, tearing up floorboards. The place looked like a debris field after a tornado.
Somebody had been here—trash and butts on the floor, a filthy, unflushed toilet.
But not one shred of intel to bring back for a trophy.
While his men stood around gulping water from their hydration packs and scar ng down protein bars, Salvio called his pilots, ordering them to land for exfil. Might as well get back to barracks at Ciudad Evita and call it a night.
Ten minutes later, his unit’s three Eurocopters touched down, their turbines slowed. His men ducked low to avoid the carbon-fiber rotors raking the air just above their heads and piled into the choppers. They made room for the sniper and his spotter, who’d had to hump in six klicks by foot the day before to avoid detection. The sniper grabbed a spot on the floor at Salvio’s feet.
At least the men were in good spirits, Salvio told himself. They laughed and joked among themselves as young men do for release after the adrenaline rush of a combat operation.
Even one where no shots were fired.
“Ready, Ensign?” the pilot asked.
“Let’s get back to the barn,” Salvio said, in English. Just like his instructor at Fort Benning used to say. “Rápido.” Salvio’s son, a striker, was finally starting on his fútbol team. With any luck, the refuel would go fast and he’d make it home in time to catch his game.
The turbines whined as the choppers lifted in unison, arcing into the warm, starlit sky, streaking for home in single file.
A heartbeat later, alarms screamed.
Salvio grabbed a handhold as the helicopter plunged violently to escape, blowing auto-chaff in a steep banking turn. Through the gunner’s door he saw a fiery streak slam into one of his choppers and erupt in a cloud of flaming metal.
The last thing Salvio heard was the roar of the exploding HE charge that tore his aircraft apart, killing most, including him. The screaming survivors perished when the burning wreck slammed into the ground five hundred meters below.
In the space of thirty seconds, the entire Scorpion platoon ceased to exist.
Proof of concept number one.