THE KILL ZONE
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK Company
Copyright © Chris Ryan 2010
The right of Chris Ryan to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
Epub ISBN 978 1 444 71027 4
Book ISBN 978 1 444 71024 3
Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK Company
338 Euston Road
To my agent Barbara Levy, publisher Mark Booth, Charlotte Haycock and the rest of the team at Coronet.
Kill Zone (noun)
1. The area of a military engagement with a high concentration of fatalities.
2. An area of the human body where entry of a projectile would cause death.
|AQT||Al Qaeda Taliban|
|CO19||Specialist Firearm Command branch of the Metropolitan Police Service|
|Det (the)||14 Intelligence Company, a covert surveillance unit trained by 22 SAS for deployment in Northern Ireland|
|det cord||detonating cord|
|FOB||forward operating base|
|frangible ammo||soft rounds that break as they hit walls, reducing ricochets|
|GCHQ||Government Communications Headquarters|
|gimpy||general purpose machine gun (GPMG)|
|green zone||the fertile area surrounding a river or wadi|
|Hesco||flat-packed containers that are infilled with dirt or sand to create protective barriers|
|ICU||intensive care unit|
|IED||improvised explosive device|
|JSIW||Joint Services Interrogation Wing|
|JTAC||Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre|
|LASM||light anti-structures missile|
|LTD||laser target designator|
|MoD||Ministry of Defence|
|MRE||meal, ready to eat|
|NBC suits||nuclear, biological and chemical warfare suits|
|REME||Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers|
|RUC||Royal Ulster Constabulary|
|SBS/shakyboats||Special Boat Service|
|SOP||standard operating procedure|
|UAV||unmanned aerial vehicle|
|UMP||Universal Machine Pistol, a Heckler and Koch submachine gun|
|wadi||a dry riverbed|
All warfare is based on deception. When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy think we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
The Art of War
Iran. Somewhere near the border with Afghanistan. 1980.
A fire crackled at the mouth of a cave.
It was not a large fire, because it was not a large cave. Just big enough for the four black-robed people who used it as a dwelling place: an old man, an old woman and two children, nine and eight. And even though it had been scorching that day, the fire was as welcome for its heat as for its light. These desert-dwellers knew that the temperature could drop to below freezing as the night wore on.
The orange flames danced in the blackness. And as they danced, they reflected on the metal of a gun. It was not a new gun, nor a particularly expensive or desirable one. Just an old AK-47, its wooden butt burnished and worn. The old man would tell people it was Russian-made but in truth it was as much a mongrel as the wild dogs that ran in packs around these parts, a gun cobbled together from different weapons made in different countries. Hungarian, Chinese . . . It lay on the lap of the old man, who sat cross-legged by the fire, one gnarled finger placed gently – tenderly, almost – on the trigger.
He spoke. Stories of war and death that somehow suited his harsh, weather-beaten face. And as he spoke, the two boys listened, the reflection of the flames flickering in their wide, dark eyes.
Az sheytan-e bozorg bar hazar bashed
,’ he announced in his native Farsi. ‘Beware of the Great Satan – America. And beware its lapdog, Britain. These are the homes of the infidels and the ungodly. It is your duty, as Muslims and followers of the Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, to fight a righteous and holy war against these sinners. The time will come when all who are true to the Prophet will be called to rise up and fight against them. My time on earth is not long, but you . . .’
He looked at each of the boys in turn.
must be ready to answer that call.’
A clattering noise. The old woman placed a pot near the fire and stirred its contents with a spoon. ‘You should not fill their ears with such things,’ she said. Her skin was leathery with age, her voice croaky. ‘They are too young.’
The old man scowled. His eyes were flinty under his bushy eyebrows. ‘You don’t know what you say,’ he rasped. ‘No one is too young to understand their purpose.’
purpose,’ the woman mumbled. ‘Not theirs.’
His hands trembled slightly on his Kalashnikov. It took a moment to subdue his anger.
‘What would a
know of such things?’ he said after a while. ‘It is men who understand the ways of the world.’
are not men,’ the old woman insisted in a low voice. She sounded both scared to speak and compelled to do so. ‘They are children.’
The old man rose instantly to his feet, letting the rifle fall to the ground. He stepped towards his wife, raised his hand and, with the force of a much younger person, dealt her a sharp blow across the side of the face. The woman cried out, but the man hit her again. She tumbled to the dusty floor, a trickle of blood oozing from her nose. As she lay there, her husband spoke in a firm voice.
As for those women from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart; and scourge them!
Holy words from the holy Koran, and familiar to the old woman’s ears. She’d heard them enough times throughout her life. Keeping her head bowed, she pushed herself to her knees and dabbed away the blood, then picked up her spoon and continued to stir the food in the pot while the man turned back to his grandchildren.
‘Will you be ready to answer the call?’ he demanded in a loud voice.
‘Yes, Grandfather,’ the two boys said in unison. ‘We will be ready.’
Young Farzad sat close to the fire. He and his brother had seen their grandmother beaten before. Many times. He admired his grandfather. Admired his strong words. Admired his devotion. Grandmother was always interfering. Whenever she overstepped the mark, she was punished, as was right and proper. She had been beaten before, and she would be beaten again. Farzad was more interested in what his grandfather had to say. In what he had to show them. Like the Kalashnikov that lay in the dust by the fire. And he could tell his brother felt the same way.
The old man gave an approving nod and sat down next to them once more. He picked up the gun and started to dismantle it, carefully laying each of the parts on the ground in front of the two boys. First, the magazine. When this was detached, he pointed the gun out of the cave mouth and pulled back the cocking lever, making sure there was no round left in the chamber. Satisfied it was empty, he removed the cleaning rod, the receiving cover and the recoil spring. He noticed with pride that his grandsons were watching and absorbing his every move. With expert hands he removed the bolt carrier and gas tube, and when the weapon was fully stripped down he handed the shell of the Kalashnikov to the elder of the two.
‘Farzad,’ he said. ‘You are nine years old. I was your age when I first learned how to manage a weapon. You will rebuild this for me now.’
Farzad felt a quiet thrill. ‘Yes, Grandfather,’ he said and, following the old man’s quiet, patient instructions, started to reassemble the rifle. The clunky noise of the metal pieces slotting together echoed around the cave. In only a few minutes, the AK-47 was reassembled and ready to fire.
‘Good,’ the old man said, and his hard eyes turned to the younger boy. ‘Adel,’ he announced. ‘
will shoot first.’ And he led the two boys out of the cave.
The desert night was already beginning to grow cool. In the distance they could see dots of light – dwellings much like their own, scattered around the foothills of these mountains and the plains beyond. He placed the Kalashnikov in Adel’s hands and helped him press the butt firmly into his bony shoulder and aim out into the blackness. ‘There are three positions,’ he explained to the boys, and he moved the selector lever from safe to the middle position. A tinny click. ‘Automatic. The weapon will continue firing until you release your finger from the trigger, or you fire all the rounds from the magazine.’ Another flick of the selector lever, down to the lowest position. ‘Semi-automatic,’ he announced. ‘The weapon will fire only once. You need to release the trigger and pull it again to fire a second shot.’ With a sharp tug, he pulled back the cocking lever, knowing that it would be too hard for Adel. Then he stepped back. Twenty metres from where they stood there was a low mulberry bush, no more than a couple of metres high, and they could just make out its outline in the darkness. ‘Aim for the bush,’ he said, ‘and fire when you are ready.’