‘It will go well, Insha Allah’ said the man the group knew as Omar Fadir.
Mohammed Isas, the eldest amongst the men sat on the ground, replied ‘We wish it so. As soon we receive the money from your people, through our intermediary in Dubai, the product will be delivered through the agreed route, within one calendar month even though we are in the Ramadan.’
All seven were dressed in the traditional garb of Khandahar, Afghanistan,with scarves covering their faces in the sweltering heat and dust. Isas, one of the prime drug barons in the region, was worth probably $200 million, with most of that stashed in the Middle East.
The product in question, opium from the poppy fields, had been stored for a long period in a house that he only knew about. The previous years has been bumper ones for opium, now selling wholesale for about $120 per kilo and enabling the drug dealers, farmers and indeed the Taliban to generate almost a $1billion a year.
The lone buyer sat in the group and known as Omar Fadir was very dark skinned, not looking like being from that area. He wasn’t. No one for thousand of miles around knew his real name was Tayo James, and in spite of what his numerous passports stated, he was of Nigerian origin. He had lived in several countries in his 38 years, spoke English with an American twang, was fluent in German, Spanish and Italian. He had travelled 7000 kilometres by air and then through the desert in uncomfortable lorries to make the biggest buy of his life which would make him rich beyond belief.
Fifteen hundred meters above the group, they were being watched.
An American Sword, a vastly upgraded version of the Predator drone, was an unmanned surveillance aircraft circling the group for the last hour, due to human intelligence or spy reports that the Taliban, as well as Al Qaeda leaders, were gathering to plan strikes against the Western forces in the area.
The tip off was wrong, as the meeting had nothing to do with terrorism but it’s source was from a rival drug baron, who wanted the Allies to dispose of his enemies in the opium business.
11, 0000 kilometres away in Langley, Washington, Master Sergeant Robert James Purser otherwise known as RJ was ‘piloting‘ the drone with the use of satellite data links, which uploaded real time images of the group drinking sweet tea and planning their drug business.
The Sword, six metres long with a twelve metre wingspan, was powered by solid fuel cells with a 15 hour endurance making it capable of flying almost 1700 kilometres. Armed with a Hellfire2 missile, it was a weapon which had killed many Taliban and Al Queada leaders in recent years. Further upgrades by an Israeli defence company had designed it to be assembled and disassembled in the field.
RJ was waiting for the kill order to launch the missle which would totally obliterate the group meeting below, who at the moment were oblivious to their pending fate.
This three way American chain of command meant that this kill order had to come from Coalition HQ back in Iraq. Gripping the joystick of the Sword, RJ operated the zoom lenses of its optical vision and saw one of the guards looking up, shading his eyes at the direction of the drone. The rear engined drone is quite silent in its operation but a glint off the sun has caught the guard’s attention. He pointed at the sky and RJ could see him his mouth moving, no doubt shouting. The drug bargaining group scattered but RJ could not pull the trigger until he got the kill order.
RJ turned around in his seat and asked his commanding officer ‘Ma’am, the targets are making a run for it. We need to fire now or lose the chance of killing most of the group’
His boss replied in clipped tones ‘Wait for the Kill order before you fire, understand master sergeant?
‘Understood, ma’am’ RJ answered.
On the ground in Kandahar, drug sellers and buyer alike were diving into the brush, whilst the bodyguards were venting their rage at the drone by firing their Kalashnikov rifles towards it, although it was out of range.
Two things happened. As the kill order came through RJ’s headphones, a micro processor in the heart of the drone fused. During the construction of the Sword, many of its parts had come from the lowest bidder, and this lack of quality caused the main circuit that delivered signals to the drone, to lose power.
As RJ pressed the trigger to fire, the Sword started to fall out of the sky almost in a controlled descent, as signals determining its flight mode became intermittent.
On the ground, the drug dealers after diving for cover, saw that the drone was in distress and was not going to fire its missile, so came out shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ or ‘God is Great’ over and over.
Back at his station, RJ was trying frantically to regain control over the Sword, but the machine was not recognising his inputs. His altimeter showed the drone was down to six hundred metres and seemingly getting ready to spiral into the ground. Losing positive control, his monitors went blank and he shouted to his supervisor ‘Signals lost, ma’am’
She replied ‘I see that. Notify HQ that one of our Swords has crashed’
Messages began to be relayed real time to Iraq, through the command structure about the drone.
Back on the ground in HelmandProvince, the machine had gone autonomous and landed itself relatively intact in the brush. The engine had cut out and one of its spindly legs crumbled, as the bodyguards rushed up to it.
As they cocked their Kalashnikovs and prepared to open fire on it, the buyer known as Omar, rushed up to them and shouted for them not to destroy it. ‘No, no, not fire’ turning to his hosts to get them to stop their men.
Mohammed Isas, the leader, followed this up by raising a hand signalling them to halt which the men did. Very slowly and carefully, they surrounded the slightly smoking Sword pointing their guns at it. Omar came up to it, saw that there were wires hanging out from its belly, where the smoke emanated from and reaching forward, yanked these wires out. The shouts of glee from the drug merchants continued and it could be safely assumed, that the word going forth from here, would be that they had shot down the drone instead of it coming down itself.
Back in Washington, the American authorities were in a panic mode, not knowing what happened to their drone. With cloud cover over the site, satellite images were unclear, so messages were sent to their spies on the ground, to get to the location, as soon as it was safe to do so. In addition, another Sword was sent aloft, as well as F-16 jets being scrambled on a search and destroy mission, to stop it falling into enemy hands.
This was too late, as the group on the ground had carried the machine into a covered shed. The simplicity of the body of the drone became apparent, as armed only with a set of spanners and Allen keys, Omar and his suppliers were able to dismantle the drone within 30 minutes. The wings were folded into two like that of planes on aircraft carriers, the Hellfire2 missile unloaded, and all went into the back of a 15 tonne covered lorry, of which the drug dealers had three. Fully aware of satellites that might be looking down on them, the three lorries dispersed in three separate directions, so any watchers would not be sure in which one the drone was in. Omar sat in the one with the Sword, which drove southwards deeper into bandit territory. Omar, who had many names in his contact database, already had plans for the Sword. He now offered to buy the Sword from the Afghans, as the wily Nigerian had several options.
One, he could sell the state of the art machine and its Hellfire missile to the Russians or Chinese who were perfectly capable of reverse engineering it. The other plan was even more daring.
The Afghans sold the drone to him, even though American assets were searching high and low for it. Omar has Ukrainian and Israeli associates who helped him disable the machine’s GPS systems, which might otherwise be sending its location coordinates to satellites in space, which in turn could have brought US fighter bombers raining ordnance on their heads. Over the next six months, the Sword was stripped by Ukrainian air force technicians, its Hellfire2 missile sold on for over $2m to an interested Asian country, making Omar even more money. On the pylon which usually held the Hellfire, a pod was mounted which could carry a 100 kilogram payload. Furthermore, a simple command control unit, the size of a notebook, was designed for Omar to control the Sword via Chinese satellites. With this, he could launch and control the machine almost anywhere within its range.
The Sword had some stealth properties, so it could conceivably fly unseen by both land and air based radar. Hidden in a cargo ship, it made its way to South America for the next stage of the plan.
The Sword arrived in the Mexican City of Gurracha, home place of the Conquistadores, one of Mexico’s most violent drug gangs. The Conquistadores originally from the Tamaulipas region were now part of the Juarez cartel.
Omar, now under another one of his pseudonyms, Manuel Esperanza, was present, enabling him to use his Spanish language skills.
Mexico had taken over from Colombia as the hub of the world’s drug smuggling, with its dealers supplying over 85% of illicit drugs entering the USA.
The rest of the Manuel ‘s plan was underway, which meant using the rebuilt Sword to fly pure cocaine across the US border from Juarez, overfly the states of New Mexico and Texas and arrive in Little Rock, Arkansas, home state of former president Bill Clinton. Now stripped of its United States Air Force markings and repainted black, it could fly the distance of almost 1000 kilometres. The likelihood of detection was low, as flying at low altitude as well as landing in Arkansas, which did not have the usual drug enforcement scrutiny found around Arizona and Texas.
The Conquistadores did not trust Manuel as he was now known, and he in turn knew that this bunch were the most ruthless gang in history, who routinely cut off heads of their enemies or anyone who stood in their way, sending messages of fear to all. The gang’s enforcers or hit men known as Sicarious stared at Manuel balefully. In turn, he had recruited ex American SEALs and British SAS types as his bodyguards and they were always within three hundred meters of him, without the Mexicans being aware of their presence. Manuel paid them very well, as he had made millions from the onward sale of the Afghan drugs but he had political plans in Nigeria, where he aspired to be a governor or indeed the president. Then he could get himself obscenely rich from the oil and natural gas riches of that country. He was also worried that once the drugs arrived in Little Rock in the hands of their associates, the Conquistadores would have little use for him again, but his bargaining chip was that he alone knew how to operate the Sword.
They could run shipments worth billions with low risk to the ever increasing numbers of American drug consumers.
The CIA and National Security Agency were also on Manuel / Omar/ Tayo’s trail. They had captured one of the drug lords, who in turn had confessed, that the Sword was now in the hands of a dark skinned Arab man. However, it was only a matter of time, before facial recognition software, allied to electronic tracking of airline tickets could flag him up as Omar the Arab. The US government wanted their property back, even though it had given up most of its secrets to potential enemies.
With the drug payload loaded into the pod, it was driven to a little used road outside Juarez. Turned into the wind, Manuel started the engine and the Sword needed only 1000 metres to launch into the air.
Two hundred kilometres across the border, Sheriff Ed Macy was parked at behind a huge billboard on Freeway I 19 on the look out for boy racers. Kids with their souped up Camaros, Chevy Cavaliers and Golfs with their crazy paint jobs and suspension modifications, were the scourge of the police and highways users.
That late afternoon, Ed had just spotted a boy racer in a Mitsubishi Evo going past at well over a hundred and eighty kilometres an hour. ‘Goddam Rice Burner’ he mumbled, using the pejorative term for cars of Asian origin, as he slipped the big Pontiac into drive. With lights flashing, Ed went after the speeding car. The kid in the Evo kicked up the speed to 200 kph with Ed’s cruiser now struggling to keep up.
Ed called up support ‘299 here, in pursuit of Mitsubishi Evo, I can’t see his plates right now heading north on I 19. Request chopper and car support.’
In minutes, a police Eurocopter AS365 helicopter lifted off after the Evo.