The Outlaws - By W. E. B. Griffin


El Obeid Airport

North Kurdufan, Sudan

2130 31 January 2007

The small convoy—two battered Toyota pickups, a Ford F-150 pickup, and a Land Rover—had attracted little attention as it passed through Al-Ubayyid (estimated population around 310,000).

Al-Ubayyid was the nearest (seven kilometers) town to the El Obeid Airport, which was sometimes known as the Al-Ubayyid Airport. The town of Al-Ubayyid was sometimes known as El Obeid. In this remote corner of the world, what a village or an airport—or just about anything else—was called depended on who was talking.

The men were all armed with Kalashnikov rifles, and all bearded, and all were dressed in the long pastel-colored robes known as jalabiya, and wearing both tagia skullcaps and a length of cloth, called an imma, covering their heads.

The beds of the trucks each held one or two armed men. It was impossible to tell—even guess—what the cargo might be, as it was covered with a tarpaulin.

The convoy looked, in other words, very much like any other convoy passing through—or originating in—Al-Ubayyid on any given day. By whatever name, the town had been a transportation hub for nearly two centuries. First, there had been camel caravans. Then a rail line. Then roads—it’s a nine-hour, five-hundred-kilometer trip from Khartoum—and finally, six kilometers south of town, the airport with a runway nearly a thousand meters long.

As it approached the airport, the convoy slowed and the headlights were turned off. It moved near to the end of the chainlink fence surrounding the airport and stopped, remaining on the road.

A dozen men—everyone but the drivers—quickly got out of the vehicles.

The man who had been in the front seat of the Land Rover went to the floodlight—not much of a floodlight, just a single fluorescent tube—on a pole at the end of the fencing and quickly shot it out with a burst from a .22 caliber submachine gun. The weapon was “suppressed,” which meant that perhaps eighty percent of the noise a .22-long rifle cartridge would normally make was silenced.

He then quickly joined the others, who were in the process of quickly removing the immas and skullcaps from their heads and finally their long jalabiya robes. The discarded garments were then tossed into the Land Rover.

Under the jalabiya robes they had been wearing black form-fitting garments, something like underwear except these had attached hoods which, when they had been pulled in place, covered the head and most of the face.

Night-vision goggles and radio headsets were quickly put in place.

Next, they took from the Land Rover and the pickups black nylon versions of what was known in the U.S. and many other armies as “web equipment” and strapped it in place on their bodies.

The man with the .22 caliber submachine gun—the team leader—was joined by two other men equipped with special weapons. One was armed with a high-powered, suppressed sniper’s rifle that was equipped with both night vision and laser sights. The other had a suppressed Uzi 9mm submachine gun.

The laws of physics are such that no high-powered weapon can ever be really suppressed, much less silenced. The best that could be said for the suppressed sniper’s rifle was that when fired, it didn’t make very much noise. The best that could be said for the Uzi was that when fired, it sounded like a suppressed Uzi submachine gun, which meant that it wasn’t quite as noisy as an unsuppressed Uzi.

The sights on the sniper’s rifle, which was a highly modified version of the Russian Dragunov SVD-S caliber 7.62 x 54R sniper’s rifle, were state-of-the-art. When looking through the night-vision scope—which had replaced the standard glass optical scope—the marksman was able to see on the darkest of nights just about anything he needed to.

And by sliding a switch near the trigger, a small computer was turned on. A laser beam was activated. The computer determined how distant was the object on which sat the little red spot, and sent that message to the crosshairs on the sight. The result was that the shooter could be about ninety percent sure that—presuming he did everything else required of a marksman since the rifle was invented, such as having a good sight picture, firing from a stable position, taking a breath and letting half of it out before ever so carefully squeezing the trigger—the 147-grain bullet would strike his target within an inch or so of where the little red dot pinpointed.

The team leader made a somewhat imperious gesture, which caused another man—who had been standing by awaiting the order—to apply an enormous set of bolt