Twelve hours in, I have collected useful data through my scope. I have confirmed there are six Yemen soldiers here. I have also been able to identify the ranking officer by the black band on the left sleeve of his Yemen military uniform. I will take him out first. He will be number 128. When the ranking officer goes down, the rest of the troops get confused. These men are soldiers. They rely on orders a little too much for their own good. Their training does not teach them much about individual survival. This makes my job easier.
Two of the remaining five are sharing a cigarette every twenty-five to thirty minutes. They are due to light up again in about ten. I will take them out last. They will be numbers 132 and 133. It will take them longer to drop the smokes, get the rifles off their backs, and locate a safe spot from which to return fire. The next match they light will be the last of their lives—and my signal to start firing. I will kill numbers 129-131 from left to right. There is no real reason for this order. I just happen to prefer shooting from left to right.
The smoking buddies do not disappoint. They light up right on schedule. The ranking officer is on his radio wrapping up the day with his basecamp. His pacing will make his shot a little more difficult. I scan my infrared scope over each of the six targets, hesitating for a second on each man’s neck to check for the clearest shot. Everything appears to be a go. I still have not seen the prisoners. It helps they are not outside where a stray bullet could hit them or where they could end up in a hostage situation. The ground team is on standby. They will rush the cave to get the officers out as soon as I finish my job.
The ranking officer finishes on the radio and stores it away. It’s go time. I take in a very long breath and release it slowly as I settle into marksman position. I am lying on my stomach with my elbows supporting my upper body. My .300 Win Mag rifle is resting on the swivel bipod, which gives me steadiness and ease of mobility. With my scope locked onto the neck of 128, I gently touch the tip of my finger to the trigger and re-check conditions: no wind, lighting is adequate, no precipitation, and all six targets are in view. I slightly pulse my finger on the trigger to take it the rest of the way. The gun kicks a bit. The silencer contains the sound. The leader drops.
As expected, the other five begin to scatter. Guards 129 and 130 run to check on their captain. They pull him out of the line of fire—as if he could still be alive. I refocus on the one on the left. Another swift pull of the trigger and he drops as well. Guard 130 catches on now, and looks in my direction. He opens his stance for a second and I pull the trigger again. He drops on top of 129. Guard 131 runs for the cave. I have to stop him before he gets to the prisoners. I do not like shooting men in the back, but I have no choice now. Luckily for me, he is not wearing a helmet. I take out the back of his skull.
The smokers now have their guns off their backs. They jump behind separate boulders for protection. I hold tight. After all, I have the advantage. I can see them, but they cannot see me. They are afraid, and I am not.
After a few minutes, I see 133 send a signal to 132. Though I cannot see the hand signal sent by 133, I know he has assumed leadership. He just jumped to the top of the short list. I do not worry myself with their plan. It is always the same. One is going to try to distract me by either running in my direction or diving for a piece of communication equipment. I always ignore distractions and keep my eye on the target.
I have to give the Yemen soldier’s credit for originality. They go with the suicide distraction—a tactic popular with the Japanese and Islamic armies. It is tougher to anticipate and almost impossible to diffuse. Guard 132 jumps out from behind the boulder with his Mini-UZI aimed in my direction. His Israeli-built submachine gun can hold up to thirty rounds. I am going to assume it is full and he is not worried about accuracy. I have to move quickly—or risk being hit by the spray of his aimless bullets.
My scope has not left the boulder where 133 is holding. If he is going to run, he will either go for the brush behind him—where he will meet up with the rest of my team—or for the cave. I bet on the cave. I aim my gun at a spot just to the right of the boulder. Based on his height, I guess where his head would reach if he were bent over running for the cave. I choose a spot fifty-four inches above the ground and hold.
My calculations are correct. He moves directly into my line of fire. Forced to shoot another coward, I blow off the back of his head. Blood sprays all the way to the cave opening. With an immediate straight three-inch drop of my gun, I take out the suicide shooter just as he reaches the base of my perch. It is an easy shot—like his uniformed buddy, he is not wearing a helmet. I could go for his face, but I choose the neck. I prefer the bigger challenge. I squeeze the trigger. His head drops and he falls backwards. The area goes quiet.
I signal the ground troops. They come in cautiously, guns ready. Four of them head into the cave with bolt cutters to free the POWs. Two stand guard outside. I watch over the area in case backups were deployed. Since we are on an island under surveillance by the Navy and its drones, the chances of there being anyone else in the vicinity are extremely low.
I reach for my backpack and pull out my binoculars. Feeling safe, I drop my rifle and stand up to take a better look around the island. I feel the warm ocean breeze across my face. I hear the helicopter approaching to pick up the prisoners and the troops. I congratulate myself on another job well done. As I drop my binoculars, I feel a sting on my neck. My legs collapse under me, and I fall.