The Unusuals


MURIH had fought against the Americans in Afghanistan and seen firsthand the effects of their training. His fellow jihadists liked to claim that the Americans impressive kill ratio was due solely to the fact that they controlled the skies, but Murih knew otherwise. He had come up against their hunter-killer teams: autonomous deep-penetration units that wreaked havoc behind enemy lines. Murih had been in the region only a month when they received a report from the locals that a single American helicopter had dropped off seven men on a nearby peak.

Shortly after midnight, Murihs commander ordered a full assault on the position. Nearly two hundred men participated in the attack. Two platoons of roughly thirty men apiece started up the mountain, while the rest of the men were held in reserve. The first group attacked from the east and the second from the west. The lead elements of both groups made it to within ten meters of the peak, and then everything went wrong. From their elevated and fortified position, the Americans sprung their trap. A total of five men made it back down the mountain without injury. The wounded were left to cry for help in the cold mountain air.

The undisciplined commander immediately ordered a second attack and called for the mortar teams to open fire. They quickly learned the Americans had a sniper with them. All six men manning the three mortar tubes were killed within seconds of firing their first round. Another wave of sixty men headed up the mountain, this time firing as they went. Two hours later, a handful of men limped off the mountain, swearing a company of Rangers was dug in on the peak. The commander would hear none of it. He turned to Murih and ordered him to take his newly formed unit of thirty-eight Saudi freedom fighters and attack the position.

Murih looked back on that night as a defining moment in his life. He understood the situation both tactically and psychologically. The commander was Taliban and had been in charge of the area prior to the American towers coming down. If word got out that he couldn dislodge seven Americans from his own backyard, he would be humiliated. The man would rather waste two hundred good men than face public embarrassment.

Standing in the mountains that night, Murih was overcome with an incredible sense of calm. He did not bother to argue with the commander. He knew if he refused the order he would be branded a coward and sent back to Saudi Arabia to live the rest of his life in humiliation. If he led his men up the hill it was likely he would be killed along with many of his men. With his options limited, he decided on the most simple, straightforward solution there was. Murih pulled out his pistol, shot the commander in the head, and took charge. He sent runners for more men and artillery and had the wounded evacuated. In the half-light of dawn, just as the lone artillery piece was being moved into position, Murih heard the steady thumping of a helicopter fighting to stay aloft in the thin mountain air. As the noise grew he grabbed a pair of high-powered binoculars and focused on the peak. He watched in awe as seven men climbed into the belly of the American beast and disappeared over the other side of the ridge.

After that lopsided engagement, Murih had thrown himself into studying the American Special Forces. What he quickly learned was that it was not simply better weapons and tactics that made them so effective, it was selection and training. Of the seven men now seated at the table, he had commanded five of them in Afghanistan, and had handpicked them for the operation. The other two were foisted on him by Zawahiri. The arrogant man had insisted they were two of his best. When Murih found out that John was Zawahiris nephew, things became more clear. The talentless hack had been sent along to keep an eye on things and report back to his uncle.

The Egyptian was dragging the rest of the team down. He finished last in every exercise and because of him, the success of the mission was now in jeopardy. Murih thought of the Americans and their training. The selection process for their elite units was grueling. Some of them, like the SEALs, had an eighty percent rate of attrition. Murih tried to remember the word they used. It had something to do with water. After a moment it came to him. They called it washing out. Murih liked the phrase — it had a religious undertone to it. Like washing away the impure or unworthy.

He looked down at John. Sending him back to his uncle was very risky, for two reasons: the first, Gumi was liable to cut off their funding and recall the entire team; the second, the halfwit was likely to get picked up by a customs official somewhere along the way and expose the entire operation. Murih had another moment of clarity. The Egyptians smug face and half-finished bomb made the decision all that much easier. The mission was more important than any one man. Murih drew his 9mm pistol from his thigh holster, pointed it at Johns head, and shot him.

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