PART I:G.I. Joe Special Missions: DRC

Chapter 1: Assignment

"I need your help," the man on the vidphone screen said again.

Clayton Abernathy, otherwise known as General Hawk to his subordinates, gritted his teeth, silently counted to ten and back, then repeated his question. "And I ask you, again, what right do you think you have to call me and request my team's help with your petty problems?"

"Look, Clayton, I know we aren't the best of friends—"

"That's a friggin' understatement. Give the man a beer, he sure knows how to read minds," Hawk said sarcastically.

"—I know we aren't the best of friends, but your team is the best there is at what they do, and right now I need the best." Major Clancy forced the words out in a rush, as if desperate to get them out before he either lost his nerve or General Hawk cut him off.

Hawk took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down, now slightly intrigued. In the years since he and Clancy had attended Academy together, he'd learned that the man hated asking for help. The fact that he had now meant something likely was going on that he wasn't able to handle, either in personal capacity or in 'official' military capacity. "So what is it that you need my guys to do?" he raised a hand. "I'm not agreeing to this, not yet. I want to know exactly what this is that I'm getting my team into."

Clancy sighed. "It's an escort job."

Hawk rolled his eyes and reached for the off button. "Your people can handle that—"

"Wait, it's not like that! Have you heard of the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo?"

Hawk stopped. Thought. "Speak fast. I'm a very busy man and my time is short."

"The International Criminal Court, the ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands, has this major case coming up against a high-ranking lieutenant in the Army of the DRC. The Office of the Prosecutor's trying to build an airtight case against this lieutenant, and in order to do so they've got this victims advocate to go out to one of the far-flung villages in North Kivu, a province in the eastern part of the DRC, and speak to some of that lieutenant's victims. She set out for the village about two months ago with a full military escort and they were ambushed just outside of Shungo, halfway to the village. She reached safety but a lot of the team didn't. I had her flown back to Goma by bush pilot but she still needs to go out there and talk to those victims—and there's a doctor there, a Dr. Kristophe Lavigne, works with the charity organization MSF, Medecins Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders in English, who had to leave the area when two of his teammates were wounded out there late last year. Dr. Lavigne wants to travel with the prosecutor and your team out to that area to tend to some of the villagers—there were some villagers who had wounds requiring long term care, and he's anxious to see how they're faring after his abrupt departure last winter. I just need a team of your people to go out there with the prosecutor and the doctor, ensure their safety while they are out there in North Kivu, and then get them to the UN peacekeeping base in Kirumba."

Hawk thought. He'd heard some of what was going on in the DRC—who hadn't?—but hadn't paid it too much attention. "It sounds pretty straightforward. So how come your soldiers couldn't handle the job?" he asked.

Clancy blew out a breath. "Because in addition to the Lord's Resistance Army led by that maniac Joseph Kony, the DRC's army aren't playing the 'good guys' either; their leader, Kibibi Mutwara, was arrested a few months back for human rights violations. Supposedly Mutwara's forces are there to help keep the peace but all they're really doing is abusing their power and the terrorizing the locals. That ambush—we're still not sure if our escorts got caught in between the DRC army and one of the rogue militia factions as innocent bystanders, or if they were a target—our intel sources didn't have info on that. But the UN wants the doctor to go back out, and the ICC needs whatever testimony this prosecutor can dig up to convict their guy, and both the doctor and the lawyer are willing to go back out there, so I thought I'd call you and see if your team would be willing to provide a small—and I'll stress small—escort."

Hawk smiled grimly. "So what you're telling me is that your intel was faulty and your people weren't capable of handling the assignment. That's not a worry; my people don't work under any such handicaps." Clancy opened his mouth to say something, but Hawk held up a hand. "No. Here's what I'm going to do. You send me what information you have. I'll look over it when I get it, then show my troops. I'm going to let them make a decision. The Congo isn't a joke, I've heard of the unrest over there, but at the same time there's no official US presence in there, so my people will be working with no support. I'm going to let them decide whether they want to do this, and I'm taking volunteers only. I'll have your answer for you in a few days. Now, send over whatever intel you do have." And without further word, he snapped off the videophone, turned on his own computer and started doing his own research into the country and the specific area of North Kivu that was the focal point of the trouble.

The intelligence he'd asked Clancy for arrived the next morning , and he spent the morning

looking through it. The intel had been faulty; what he'd been able to research on his own was far more complete than the packet Clancy had sent over. Which made Hawk shake his head; a good leader never trusted the intel, not completely; one had to plan for contingencies, and where possible corroborate with other sources. No wonder Clancy's team had been caught flat-footed.

But his team would go in with eyes open, with as much information as he could give them, and they would be expecting trouble. And they'd be volunteers; he'd wait until everyone had the same info and then take volunteers; out of the volunteers he'd decide who would go. He already had a pretty good idea who would want to; there were a couple of jungle specialists here at HQ at the moment who hadn't been out for a while and would be itching for an opportunity…he ran down a roster of everyone who was currently here at HQ, then made sufficient copies of all available information for everyone. The considerable amount of paper surprised him; the contents of the folder disgusted him. The photos and reports from various international human rights organizers made him angry, and he knew it showed on his face as he strode toward the briefing room. He'd made an announcement last night at evening roll call letting everyone know there'd be a mission briefing at fifteen hundred today.

By the time he got to the briefing room most of the Joes who were already currently at Headquarters were waiting for him already. There was some whispering between them, but that ended as soon as he took his place behind the podium. Warrant Officer Dashiell Faireborn, codenamed Flint, took the huge pile of neatly-stapled handouts Hawk handed to him and wordlessly took the top one off the pile, then handed the stack to Staff Sergeant Alison Hart-Burnett, codenamed Lady Jaye, next to him. She also took one and handed the rest to Master Sergeant Shana O'Hara, aka Scarlett, sitting next to her, then flipped hers open and started scanning the pages.

Hawk waited until all the assembled Joes had a packet before he cleared his throat for attention. They sat up straight in their chairs, looking alert; some, like Lady Jaye, were already angry. She read fast and she'd skimmed the packet—she could hardly have missed the photo on the bottom of page ten.

"I got a call from General Clancy," Hawk started without further preamble. Around the room he saw several rolled eyes and heard not-quite-muffled groans; they all knew Clancy, knew what a pain in the ass the guy was. The last mission he'd asked General Hawk for help on had been a relatively boring jaunt to New Zealand, made memorable only by the inadequate handling of flight arrangements and loss of baggage. Not that Scarlett and Snake Eyes had seen any problems with lost luggage on a tropical island, and they'd certainly not had a problem with the delay in flight arrangements that 'stranded' them on said island for an extra week…he suppressed a smile and turned his attention back to the business at hand. "Clancy has a little job he requested our help with. It's in the DRC, which, as we all know, is a hotbed of unrest at the moment. The job itself is simple; escort a doctor working with MSF and a lawyer with the ICC out to a village in the DRC jungle, ensure their safety while they do their work, then escort them out again."

"A babysitting job," Wayne Sneedon, aka Beach Head, commented. Corporal Courtney Krieger, codenamed Cover Girl, sitting next to him, punched him none-too-gently on the arm. He shot her an injured look; she responded with a poisonously sweet smile before she turned her attention back to Hawk, who'd decided to ignore the little exchange.

"A babysitting job made more complicated by the hostiles in the area. I'll recap a little about the DRC for those who might not know what's going on, then I'll brief you on the possible hostiles in the area in which this mission needs to be carried out." He turned and switched on the projector, which he'd hooked to his laptop while the packets had been passed around.

"This," he said, switching on a laser pointer and indicating the large colored map on the white screen, "Is the Democratic Republic of Congo, otherwise known as the DRC. Back in the 80's, it was known as Zaire. It's the third largest country in Africa, and the twelfth largest in the world. There's nearly 71 million people in the country. The capital is Kinshasa, here on the western border of the country, and despite the fact that its people are among the poorest in the world, there are vast deposits of minerals and raw manufacturing materials.

"The Second Congo War, also referred to as the African World War, broke out in the early 90's and devastated the country, resulting in the death of about five million people. The then-president Mobutu Sese Seko finally fled Zaire in 1997, and the new ruler, Laurent Kabila, renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, in order to become the president, he invited fighters from the neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda to help him get there, and they didn't take it too well when he thanked them for their services and told them to go home."

Someone snickered. Beach Head, it sounded like.

Hawk ignored that too. "To say that they didn't take it kindly is an understatement. They wanted to control the country with him as the figurehead. When their attempts didn't work, they assassinated him in 2001, and he was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila. The younger Kabila brokered a peace talk that ended the war and apparently withdrew the foreign troops."

"By 'apparently', I take it they didn't leave. Or didn't leave quietly." Lady Jaye commented, following along with his presentation via the packet in her hand. It contained the same information Hawk was giving them now, just in greater detail.

"No, they didn't leave. At least, not all of them. Most of them withdrew, but the eastern region of the DRC, in particular two provinces named North Kivu and South Kivu, border Uganda and Rwanda and are therefore prey to foreign militia and rebel forces left over from the Second Congo War. When democratic elections were held in the DRC in 2006 Joseph Kabila won over challenger Jean Pierre Bemba, 45% to 20%. Bemba chose to dispute the results. Sixteen people died in the ensuing riots in Kinshasa from August 20-22 that year. The UN finally took control and ended the dispute, then oversaw another election, in which Kabila won 70% of the vote. That still didn't end it for the majority of Congolese; those contested provinces of North and South Kivu are still plagued by multiple military factions." He clicked on to another image, this one two thumbnail photos of two African men.

"Faction one. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. FDLR, as they're known. Led by a renegade General named Laurent Nkumba and militia 'president' Gaston Iyamuremye," click to another slide, "with two other men named Felicien Nsanzubukire, his arms procurer," click, "and Leodomir Mugaragu as his militia planner. The last three have had sanctions placed on them by the UN for crimes against humanity, genocide in their attempt to exterminate some of the native Congolese tribes, and mass rape, pillage, torture, and killings, and it's expected Nkumba himself will receive sanctions before much longer."

"Some President." That was First Sergeant Conrad Hauser, aka Duke, sitting next to Scarlett.

Hawk nodded and went on. "Faction two. The Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, the FPLC. Despite their initial assertion that they stand for the people of the DRC and they want nothing but what is good for their country, they too have been accused of the same things the FDLR are accused of. There is an international warrant for the arrest of their 'deputy chief' Bosco Ntaganda with the ICC, he's been indicted of war crimes and is currently a fugitive."

"What's the world coming to when you can't even trust the people who are supposed to be protecting you?" Scarlett wrinkled her nose.

"Oh, it gets worse. Faction three, the Army of the Democratic Republic of Congo, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Innocent Zimurinda." Hawk nodded grimly at the widened eyes throughout the room. "Yes. The army under the control of the man who was elected president is going around murdering and raping men, women and children, burning villages and houses with people still inside them. The photo at the bottom of page ten is a graphic illustration of what their own army is doing to the people." All around the room, people who hadn't yet seen that picture gasped and made expressions of disgust and dismay and anger; the photo was of an ethnic house that had been burned, and the center of the photograph was a charred mattress with what was still quite clearly three small children twisted grotesquely on it. Cover Girl placed a hand over her mouth and nose, as if she could smell the stench of burned flesh. "Zimurinda has been sanctioned by the UN for war crimes and crimes against humanity—the same things the other people whose names and photos I have shown you have been sanctioned for. However, the president of DRC has taken no steps to stop the man; Zimurinda continues to head up military operations from a camp somewhere in North Kivu." He clicked to the next slide.

"Faction four. The Lord's Resistance Army, the LRA, led by a man named Joseph Kony. He is a religious fanatic who believes that God's telling him to build a pure Africa based strictly on the Ten Commandments and he's raising an army to enforce those beliefs. His modus operandi, however, is children. He has an army of brainwashed child soldiers, kidnapped from villages, forced to watch as Kony executes their parents and burns their homes. Then they are marched into the jungle, only to come out as child soldiers, in the case of the boys, or as child sex slaves, for the girls. There are rumors of Kony taking child wives as young as nine or ten, and medical professionals tell horror stories of seeing starved preteen girls giving birth to babies the mothers say are Kony's." Open disgust and growing anger.

"Faction five. The FLNK, or Front for the Liberation of North Kivu. Led by a guy named Maj Kasereka. He says he's protecting the DRC from Laurent Nkumba and the FDLR, but refuses to disarm. Fortunately, there are no reports of this faction terrorizing the country side and murdering the citizens, but they do have guns and armament in a region that has entirely too much of it already."

"Ánd we're supposed to escort a doctor and a lawyer through this? Are they crazy?" Corporal Daniel LeClaire, aka Recondo, spoke up from where he'd been sitting toward the back of the room.

Hawk clicked to another picture, a tall smiling African man with glasses. "One of the civilians we are being asked to escort is Kristophe Lavigne, a doctor volunteering with the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, otherwise known here as Doctors Without Borders. He is a French national volunteering with the organization. He was part of a medical team operating in north Kivu when several MSF workers were ambushed in their vehicles and shot. The MSF suspended activities in the region, and Mr. Lavigne had to be dragged out kicking and screaming; he was working in one of the remote villages, called Nzoka, in North Kivu and there were several patients gravely wounded who needed long-term care. According to Clancy he's demanding that he be allowed to return to the village. That's part of the reason why we were called."

"So who's the lawyer?" someone in the back of the room asked.

Hawk clicked over to the last picture, a blond woman with a confident smile. "This is Alexandra Cabot. She's a former Sex Crimes prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney's office, on sabbatical so she can pursue volunteer work with the ICC. She hasn't risen to the level of deputy prosecutor—yet—but right now she's handling witness and victim testimony and playing victim's advocate with an impressive amount of success."

"Why would a classy femme like that want to come grubbing in the dirt with us?" Marine Gunnery Sergeant Ettienne LaFitte, aka Gung Ho, drawled. The big Cajun was staring at Alexandra's photo like he was looking at a goddess. Hawk suppressed a smile.

"Okay, here's the deal," Hawk said, switching off the projector. "I'm not going to order anyone to do this. I want to take volunteers only, because this isn't going to be a cakewalk. This could potentially be very dangerous. Our orders are for a small—and Clancy stressed the 'small'—so we're looking at five soldiers, tops. The two working languages are English and French, so I want personnel who have at least a rudimentary knowledge of both, and any experience with African dialects will also be helpful. The US has no official military presence here in the DRC, so if something goes wrong we can't get you out in a hurry. The tensions in the region are also potentially explosive. There is a UN peacekeeping base in Kirumba, North Kivu, but that's about a hundred thirty miles from the village the lawyer and the doctor want to get to, and that's 130 miles of extraordinarily hard terrain; it can take a wheeled vehicle as much as five hours just to get ten miles. The DRC only has about 300 miles of paved road in the entire country, and the roads double as runways for the local bush pilots, which are literally the only way into and out of some of these villages. I'm told a local pilot would have more experience with local weather, takeoff and landing requirements, as well as which areas are to be avoided, so we'll have a local pilot take you guys in and bring you guys out. So only volunteers, only as much armament as you can carry, and this will be a quick, surgical, precise operation. A week at most and you'll be back here."

"I'll go." Lady Jaye was the first to raise her hand. Of course. She was their expert at covert ops. Hawk had known she'd want to go, and yet he didn't know how to tell her that it might not be a good idea. He'd been wrestling with that all night.

"I'm in." Flint. Naturally. Where Lady Jaye went, there went Flint also. Hawk had long ago gotten over being upset about fraternization between officers and subordinates. Technically, Flint ranked Lady Jaye, but Hawk rarely stood on rank here at HQ. Everyone, from him, a five-star general, to Cover Girl, a corporal, had something valuable to add to the team or they wouldn't be here. And this group of people he'd surrounded himself with were The Elite of the US Armed Forces, and they wouldn't be The Elite if they allowed personal feelings to interfere with their jobs. They were all consummate professionals, and the pairing of Flint and Lady Jaye had proved to be a distinct advantage many times on different missions.

Gung Ho grinned. "I'm in. Want to meet her." He gestured to the white screen, which moments ago had displayed the photograph of Alexandra Cabot. It was plain to anyone who knew him that the Cajun was intrigued by the pretty blonde lawyer.

"I'm in." At the back of the room, Big Brawler stood. Hawk was again surprised at the Joe's ability to disappear into the background. "If you're going into jungle, you need me."

"Me too." Recondo, which didn't surprise Hawk at all; Recondo was their expert at jungle missions. It was a toss-up, between him and Big Brawler; they were both evenly matched and constantly seeking to outdo each other; but they were both good team players, and the rivalry could stop at a moment's notice for the greater good.

At the moment, that wasn't what was worrying Hawk. It was Lady Jaye.

"Let me consider this," he nodded to the guys, but let his gaze linger on Lady Jaye. She'd served under him long enough that she understood the unspoken request for a quiet meeting, and nodded ever so slightly. "A team of five should be good enough to guard two civilians from a band of militia, and I'll need to make travel arrangements." He realized what he'd just said, and sighed; mentally, he'd already included Lady Jaye in this team. But for his peace of mind, he still had to at least try and talk her out of it.

He unhooked his laptop from the projector and started to gather up the papers, but Lady Jaye was there, collecting the papers for him. "Your hands are full. I'll get this, you get that," she said, her lips twitching a little at the sight of the laptop dwarfed in Hawk's calloused, weapon-hardened hands.