Chapter 21: Chapter 4, Episode 5: Sahel
“Damn it, this is ridiculous. Im practically speechless,” he complained automatically.
Seoul was 605-square-kilometers wide, and Yeouido was 8.4 square kilometers. He was about to search through a land that was 50 times larger than Seoul and 4000 times larger than Yeouido.
Ombuti looked around at the teams astounded faces before speaking once more.
“The Bodele lowlands arent wetlands or grasslands. Think of them as a large playa, the bottom of a lake with no water. The region that was dry yesterday would be the river of today. The basin in which you drew water from yesterday will disappear the next day, and the place where you set up a tent will turn into a sea the next morning. The reason why there is no need for a map is because the region changes every day. Although, even that has become a tale of the past due to the drought.”
It sounded crazier the more they heard. Even calling it “crazy” was an inadequate description. It seemed as though hundreds of those mountains in Shandong could fit into the Bodele depression.
“I want to hear your opinion since you are more knowledgeable about local matters. Disregarding The Raccoon, I only need to know the direction. Whats your recommended route of travel”
At the captains question, Ombuti drew a line with his fingers from one point of the map to another.
“The Raccoon had his first battle with the Habib army in the middle region of Bodele, Aodanga. Afterward, he was chased by the Habib army to the east and had three other clashes. His personal guards must have been annihilated by now. If we analyze his route, we can assume he is in the Chicha region. And right here, Chicha is by the side road where Borukus flight station is, in the central city of Faya.”
The captain nodded his head. That was not much different from the information he had received from the DGSE.
“And your recommended route”
“We can go to Salae through the north-western road by moving towards north-eastern Moussaro from Mondo. And once we take the Wadi at Salae and move northwest by 210 kilometers, we will be out of Kanem. If we move beyond the Kanem border towards the north, well be in Koro Taro. Thats Borkous oasis city. Koro Taro is also Bodeles eastern entrance. There are less than 100 kilometers from Koro Taro to Chicha. Kanem may have fallen under FROLINATs influence, but the city of Borkou is a split world. You also need to be wary of the people.”
“Well move through Koro Taro towards Chicha.”
The captain made his decision. Their first destination was Koro Taro. From now on, it was going to be a race against time.”
“No, no. To think Deuxieme Rep, which was supposed to be an osprey, would have to run like a herd of gnus. Our rear ends are not going to survive.”
Chartres looked at the route Ombuti laid out and expressed his frustration with a sigh.
“It really is far. Think of the many guerrillas whod run at us!” Burimer worried realistically.
“There wont only be people running at us. Im more afraid of the flies.”
Black Mamba flicked away the flies that were digging into the seams of his goggles and grumbled. Dead flies were strewn around him. His master was careful to not even step on ants, but he, as the disciple, had no qualms about killing.
“Im going to go crazy, I need goggles.”
At Marks words, everyone nodded. Some flies could burrow into a needle hole. Everyone was annoyed.
Ombuti threw oil into the fire.
“When its darker, the mosquitoes will greet you even more harshly. Were not on a picnic, anyhow. From now on, we also need to avoid the guerrillas and locals. There are many FROLINAT spies amongst them. Think of the distance at around 1000 kilometers since were going around them.”
“1000 kilometers!” Black Mamba shouted once more.
1000 kilometers meant 2500 li. This country had vast lands but a f*cked up road infrastructure. He felt dizzy thinking about the large units.
“Depending on the situation, the distance might increase. What I find hard to understand is why youve chosen Mondo as your starting point. Currently, Chad is no different from a land without a government. The cities are in chaos, and the guerrillas roam the boundaries. If you guys had entered from Koro Taro by air, the operation would have gone faster. Then, youd have fewer chances of encountering the guerrillas. This is only an opinion.”
“Ombuti, you dont have to think on our behalf. Your job is to guide us to the Bodele post undetected by the guerrillas,” the captain cut him off.
Ombuti agreed easily.
“Sorry. It seems like I overstepped. I just wanted to remind you guys that youre not going on the Autobahn or Autoroute highways.”
The captain himself was similarly unsure. It was hard to estimate how long theyd have to wander the large Sahel belt. Aside from the guerrillas, this was a fight against the environment. The longer the operation went, the more their survival rates would fall. The team members also had many complaints regarding the long routes.
“Captain, the guide isnt wrong. The STRELA 2 has but 4 kilometers of range. Why didnt we do a free-fall operation”
As usual, Mike began his rude provocations.
“Mike, the Borkou region is a land full of guerrillas. If were unlucky, well be annihilated before we even land on the ground.”
“Wheres an operation without risks Rather than off-roading, were better off free-falling a hundred times.”
The captains gray eyes stared straight into Mikes eyes. Even the teams gazes werent kind. What was he going to do about an operation that they had already decided on
“Sergeant Mike, operations are under the Strategic Divisions jurisdiction. We are the hands and feet that carry out the operations. Shut up and do your job. Do you understand”
Mike, scared by the captains charisma, squeaked out the affirmative then closed his mouth.
The captain didnt like that Commander Louis had placed Mike on their team. This was a guy who ruined teamwork. No special forces members wanted to become a dog instead of a specialized fighter. Their task had already begun. Complaints were only going to ruin the teamwork.
The captain warned the team members once more.
“Attention, you all have heard the guides words. We are going through Moussaro and Salae to enter Borkou. We are going by Koro Taro, using the northern routes to enter Chicha. The total distance between extracting The Raccoon and returning is over 2000 kilometers. We will try to avoid a battle. We have seven days, and the route is between the Sahel Belt and the desert. The unfamiliar region and weather is our second enemy, so everyone should pay attention to their own conditions and make sure youre not bitten by an insect. Jang Shin, pay attention to the vehicle. Over.”
“Damn, to think there are twelve Marcos in search of a single raccoon. Im going to cry.”
“Keke, Marco searched 3000 leagues for his mother. Ours is less than one. Be grateful, everyone.”
At Chartres words, Sergeant Burimer smiled. Chartres and Burimer had calm personalities that never lost their humor.
Were not that cute Marco but ospreys with Famas. Im more worried about whether a raccoon would greet the ospreys.” The captain went along with Chartres joke.
At the captains words, everyone laughed. They had imagined a raccoons frightened eyes greeted by an osprey with a loaded Famas. At the joke, the mood relaxed a lot. Even Ombuti, who had felt awkward because of the captains sharp refute, laughed along.
“Wow, we could use this.” Jang Shin exclaimed after examining the pickup.
The tire was 15 inches in width, larger than average. It was perfect for a run in the plains and desert. The rifle, which was reinforced with a 3-millimeter iron plate, seemed to be capable of exploding a body.
Jang Shin opened up the hood and ducked into the engine bay as if he was being pulled inside. He examined the system, then, after finishing his check, knocked against the vehicle.
“There will be no other Rambo gun than this if the fire rate keeps up. It will survive a month in the desert.”
“Bon, débouche-toi!” (Good, move it!)
The team members rushed to the four vehicles and got in. Ombuti grabbed the steering wheel of the first car and turned it in a north-eastern direction. The 12 mercenaries and the guide were sucked into the large Sahel region.
The Sahel Belt, or Sahel region, referred to the southern border of the Sahara Desert, which occupied the entirety of northern Africa. Sahel meant “edge” in Arabic. It formed the border between the Sahara Desert and the Southern Grasslands. The Sahel Belt had a semi-arid desert climate. Since the early-70s, droughts, and sandstorms had led to rapid desertification in the region.
Geographically, it was a long band extending 14 to 20 degrees northern latitude, from east to west. The belt was 300 kilometers wide and 5000 kilometers east to west. From the north of Senegal, facing the Atlantic Ocean, it crossed over the south of Mauritania, central Mali, southern Niger, central Chad, northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and northern Burkina Faso to the Red Seas Aden Bay.
The annual precipitation was only around 250 millimeters. In the last three years, it had only surpassed 100 millimeters. Simply put, it was a long, dry strip of land 300 kilometers across the sub-Saharan desert.
In the front seats, the captain and Ombuti kept glancing back through the rear mirror. They were glancing at Black Mamba who was looking into the map.
The playa was full of broken trees and rough grass. The vehicle was shaking side to side to the point where one would bounce right out if one wasnt careful. Despite the shaking up and down and side to side, Black Mambas body didnt shake even once.
He looked like a fixture attached to the seats. When the vehicle shook left, his body tilted left, and when it tilted right, his body tilted right, and when it bounced forwards, his body remained still, keeping the same rhythm as the car. He looked comfortable as if he was lying on a water bed.
The captain exclaimed honestly. The fact that he was keeping his balance meant that he was ready for a response at any moment.
“Is that also an Asian martial art”
“Yes. Its a Korean ancient martial art.”
“Can you teach me”
“Yes. If you work hard for about 20 years, you can learn it.”
“Allez au diable!”
The captain swore at Black Mambas careless reply. Even a large difference in strength sounded like a joke when spoken as the truth.
“Its true.” Black Mamba mumbled and nosed the map once more. The northern region had a few cities marked down, and aside from a thin stream drawn like a thread, there wasnt anything else.
The north-eastern border with Libya had the Tibesti mountain range. From the capital, NDjamena, to the city, one thin road was drawn. It was a north-eastern road that connected NDjamena to Borkou by the Kanem city.
He memorized Ombutis map in its entirety. By studying the region and terrain, he would be able to retreat, and, if not, he would die. The map was easy to memorize as it was simple, but the coordinates were hard to grasp.
Emil used the end of his gandoura to wipe his sweat. The captain and Ombuti were glaring ahead with their eyes wide open, but Emil didnt care. There was no reason to stand guard when he had Black Mamba who could sense everything.
The heat rose from the flat plains like a haze. Heatwaves blew in from the Sahara, and the heated pickup roasted them like tunas inside an oven.
Emil couldnt breathe, and the three others who had boarded with him didnt move an inch. Sergeant Paul had 10 years of experience in Africa, Ombuti was a native, and Black Mamba was a monster who didnt even sweat.
Emil, after checking the route, sighed heavily. The distance between Mondo and Koro Taro was over 500 kilometers. If they moved according to plan, they had to enter Bodele after re-supplying at Koro Taro. If they were taking the road, the entire journey would have taken four hours. But the vehicle moved 30 kilometers per hour, which meant they had to run two to three days in dirt. Their butts werent going to survive.
Team Ratel, on the first day, moved 270 kilometers from Mondo to Salae through Moussaro. It was because the north-western side was rather bearable.
It was from Salae that the situation turned worse. The north of Salae had many guerrillas. Ombuti chose to go off-road to avoid FROLINATs security net. The pickups route ran across the empty land that had Wadi and white ant houses.
The re-modified Rambo pickup didnt lose against the rough terrain. They bounced along, off-roading like a robin. Tough grass and wood wrapped around the wheel, but the 500-horsepower engine pushed forward relentlessly.
“Emil, Jeep does make good cars.”
“Its good for rough roads.”
Paul and Emil praised the Japanese-made car. Black Mamba felt uncomfortable. Like any other Korean, he reacted to anything Japanese as if one was reacting to an allergic reaction.
“Emil, do you not want to be my partner”
“What are you talking about”
“I dont like Japan.”
“This damned, lousy, metal can.” Emil kicked the dashboard.
He was witty.
The Saharas sand, carried by the wind, was different from normal sands. It was like flour. Not any flour, but one of those soft variations.
The tenacity of the soft flour-like sand was amazing. The minuscule sand entered every hole in the body. They now understood why Ombuti wrapped the litam around his entire head. The sand entered their noses, made their throats dry, and made their eyes inside their goggles turn red. Emil kept coughing up mucus and rubbing his ears with his pinky.
The milk-colored land didnt show any signs of turning green even after several hours. Aside from the sand-covered coconut tree leaves, there was no green forest nor grass. Even the stops they saw only had shriveled up herdsman and ruined homes.