Home Yusuf (Joe) Masood
Excerpted from chapter:
There are close to forty fighters, many of them Pashtun, whose language is Pashto; as well as Pakistanis, Tajiks and Uzbeks. Most of these Men are complete strangers to Yusuf, though he manages to converse with a few of them using his smattering of Dari, the language common to most ethnicities. They have been advancing for half a day, stopping in several mud-walled safe houses, replenishing ammo and weapons from hidden stores, traveling part of the way by truck, and then on foot, often crossing terrain that appeared untrodden for millennia. They have spent the night at their jumping off place, and on this drizzly mist enshrouded morning he emerges from a hut to a world that provides little promise. He is barely aware of the smell of his re-dried sweat, and an odor of close-to-ancient piss, left by a long departed goat on the straw he had slept on. At home he had showered every morning; was bothered by the odor of his underarms, would check his breath against his palm, a clean freak. But his recollection of the amenities and images of his past has been so thoroughly overwritten by the current realities, this new day by itself seems the whole of his existence...........
They are high up, and the dampened bearded men mill about, pissing, stretching, lighting cigarettes, checking weapons, waiting. The drizzle fades and a meager breeze thins the mist enough for Yusuf to scan an endless immutable stretch of rocky hills and mountains. To him, what he sees is so absent of color it is like an old photograph, discarded because it was oppressively grey and grainy and refused to divulge its story. A story he knows to be an enduring ghost-laden history of violence. He is unable to see their destination, which, he was told, lies just beyond the nearest hill; a well-traveled road where they hope to find a target to engage and destroy.
* * *
Above the Khyber in the Northwest Frontier, an Apache gunship searches ahead of itself for a designated target by tracing the wavering road through the Tirah Valley. It captures and records a greyed image moving along the road, brings it in close, and the image becomes a targeted truck.
* * *
An hour earlier this same cross-border road on the Afghanistan side was traveled by a patrol consisting of several armored Humvees. Despite its heavily reinforced plating the lead vehicle had burst apart in the yellow-orange flash of an IED, shattering the bodies of its young American occupants. As the dirt, rocks, pebbles and metal shards rained down, Mujahideen fighters on either side of the patrol opened fire with small arms, mortars and RPGs.
Still earlier, Yusuf Masood, along with about twenty others, were arrayed on a low ridge with about two hundred yards between themselves and the road. With glasses, Yusuf and his confederates were barely able to see their opposite number, well concealed on the far side. The two groups had positioned themselves safely ahead of the bomb's roadside placement so as to be firing back at an angle, thus avoiding friendly crossfire.
On the road itself, were an open truck and six men including Khan Hafeez, Yusuf's blue-eyed African-English friend. The men had dug a hole at the side and inserted the IED they had constructed while in their camp the night before. Yusuf and others had watched these experts working on a table in a mud hut, as they taped and wired together several artillery shells, bulking the shell's force with explosive stripped from an old Soviet land mine. To this they attached a wireless detonator that they did not connect. Yusuf saw they had a variety of items including washing machine timers, garage door openers, mobile phones and pagers, used to signal the detonator. They had chosen a phone.
On the road, after the detonator was connected, the man with the phone ran to the group on the far side of the road and concealed himself. The others climbed into the truck and drove away.
Warmer than usual for September, the unmoving air is weighted heavily with an exhausting heat. Even the whispering of the men has ceased. With his head down close to the pebble-strewn sand, Yusuf peers through a tangle of scrub that appears so dead it might have expired before mankind walked the earth. Rational nature has been described to him in the telling of the great bears and wolves of the wilderness, of the near mythic snow leopard of Central Asia wandering the icy peaks; the leopard possibly extinct. Perhaps, but it had reappeared in a recent dream of his, pausing in its climb to look his way, waiting patiently. No leopards here. Nothing. Just the world of irrational men.
But then, as though rebuked by the South Asian sands that cake his lips, he sees this is not entirely true, discovering living nature in the form of a lizard, no more three inches long. It's expression, as it looks at him, he thinks, is stupid but endearing and makes him smile. Alone for these few moments the sweltering world is at peace. It is so quiet Yusuf can hear the cry of a hawk—a winged speck gliding an updraft on the far side of the valley. This is a dream. George is alive. His father is alive. An illusion. But no, after the Humvees are sighted, during the two minutes prior to the explosion terror grips Yusuf so tightly his breath comes short and rapid, matching the beat of his heart. The prescient lizard darts into a hole with the speed of a snapped rubber band. Smart. Nature saved. Not a dream. Following the blast, firing his Kalashnikov and changing clips, firing burst after burst, sweat stinging his eyes, for Yusuf it is an unending chaos of incoming rounds from heavy machine guns, the recurring insect buzz of a bullet's miss not demolishing his brains; the thuds and groans, the pump of adrenaline, the metal on metal, the yelling, the bullet fractured stock of someone's rifle sending a hot splinter of wood into Yusuf's cheek just below his eye; the ricochets and rounds of mortars and rifle grenades in a gut wrenching churning of the earth in the ranks; the screams from the wounded and the smell of the blood rushing from the dead man next to him despite the cordite in his nostrils; finally the unseen whiz of a metal shard tearing along his arm, leaving an elongated bloody scratch and prompting a "Fucking thank you God" for not killing him in this one priceless second of his life. He suffers a loss of hearing, listens to an incessant ringing while he observes the mouths of others uttering nothing. He is emptied out, dumb, voiceless, until he is yanked away from his hiding place.
Retreating, taking their wounded and dead they disappear into the distant landscape, avoiding the possibility of being decimated by Reapers and gunships.
He has a secret. Changing magazines, aiming, firing, he had seen the second vehicle struck by an RPG. Watched it flame and rock, then right itself. Witnessed the first soldier go down, then the second. He also saw that while they were outnumbered they fought well and had inflicted horrific damage to his side.
But he couldn't. The infidels were Americans and were as brave as the Mujahideen, and he had aimed above them at a distant mountain that heat-shimmered like breeze-driven water. This is his secret.
Now, as they rest, Rashid finds him and pulls the splinter from Yusuf's cheek, releasing a fine stream of blood. He then pats his shoulder and tells him he has done well. Yes, he has not killed his own kind.
He had trusted the words of the ancient warrior, yet he and Rashid must remain divided by the gulf of centuries that lie between them. Whereas no trust can ever be given the deceptive Akhmad, the man so thoroughly in tune with today.
Thus is Yusuf forced into what is for him an unnatural state of keeping one's council while standing alone, reshaping him into a creature that is neither this nor that—becoming too special and in danger of extinction.
* * *
The well-armed Apache AH-64a gunship has been hanging patiently like a spider in its web waiting to pounce. Now it is doing catch-up at 250 kilometers per hour. About two miles out and closing fast—the pilot to home says:
"Panther One to Homeboy. We've crossed into Pak territory. Over."
"Copy that, Panther One. I won't fucking tell if you don't."
Laughter. Then: "Three point two one kilometers to target."
"Copy that, Panther One."
"Panther One proceeding. Bad guys ahead. Over."
A long pause.
"Panther One to Homeboy, there are four armed bad guys in the open truck. Guestimate, one or more inside. Closing. Over."
"Copy that, Panther One. Clear of possible friendlies?"
"Zero friendlies, Homeboy." Another pause. "Approaching moving target at—ah—two hundred meters. Ducks in a barrel… Panther One heading inbound to target. Over."
"Copy inbound, Panther One."
"Request clear to engage."
"Granted. Engage with Hellfire, Panther one."
"Roger that… Oops. Fuckers lifting an RPG. Engaging."
"Fire, fire, Panther One."
"Missile away." Pause. "Wham!… "
"I copy wham."
"Panther One waiting for smoke to clear… Okay, two in view on ground… No movement… Oh, correction. One still with us, tryin' to get up. Engaging with gun."
The co-pilot fires the M230 30 mm chain gun and says, "Down and out."
Pilot: "Target eliminated, Homeboy."
"Copy that, Panther One. Super shit, man. Return to base."
"Roger that. Panther One returning."
* * *
Kahn Hafeez had been thrown from the wreckage. He was on his back and conscious and felt excruciating pain. His eyes were open, but it was as if the sun had burst and he could not see beyond the sky's brilliant all-encompassing light, which he peered into while thinking, God is great. His right arm and shoulder were shattered and he was going into shock. He realized he was about to die, but he nevertheless tried to raise himself from the ground. A 30 mm round tore away his leg, yet before he bled out into oblivion his last image was of himself shopping in the rain for fresh fruit with his girlfriend back in London. Then he stopped moving
* * *