Monday, 5 April 1993

The three of us clung to the top of the Bradley armoured fighting vehicle as it bucked and lurched over the churned-up ground. Exhaust fumes streamed from its rear grille and made us choke, but at least they were warm. The days out here might be hot, but the nights were freezing.

My right hand was clenched round an ice-cold grab handle near the turret. My left gripped the shoulder strap of my day sack. We’d flown three thousand miles to use this gear, and there was nothing to replace it if it got damaged. The whole job would have to be aborted and I would be severely in the shit.

Nightsun searchlights mounted on the four AFVs strafed the front of the target buildings. The other three were decoys; ours was the only one transporting a three-man SAS team. That was if we could all keep a grip on the thing.

As our driver took a sharp left towards the rear of the target, our Nightsun sliced a path across the night sky like a scene from the Blitz.

Charlie was team leader on this one, and wore a headset and boom mike to prove it. Connected to the comms box outside the AFV, it meant he could talk to the crew. His mouth was moving but I didn’t have a clue what he was saying. The roar of the engine and the clatter of the tracks put paid to that. He finished, pulled off the headset, and lobbed it onto the grille. He gave Half Arse and me a slap and the shout to stand by.

Seconds later, the AFV slowed, then came to a halt: our cue to jump. We scrambled down the sides, taking care our day sacks didn’t strike anything on the way.

The vehicle swivelled on its own axis, mud cascading from its tracks, then headed back the way we’d come.

I joined Charlie and Half Arse behind a couple of cars. They were obvious cover, but we’d only be here a few seconds, and if the Nightsuns had done their job, anybody watching from the building would have lost their night vision anyway.

We hugged the ground, looking, listening, tuning in.

Our AFV was now grinding along the other side of the building with its mates, Nightsuns working the front of the target. And now that they were a safe distance from our eardrums, the loudspeakers mounted on each vehicle began to broadcast a horrible, high-pitched noise like baby rabbits being slaughtered. They’d been doing that for days. I didn’t know how it was affecting the people inside the target, but it certainly made me crazy.

We were about fifty metres from the rear of the target. I checked Baby-G: about six hours till first light. I checked the gaffer tape holding my earpiece, and that the two throat-mike sensors were still in place.

Charlie was sorting out his own comms. When he’d finished taping his earpiece, he thumbed the pressle hanging from a wire attached to the lapel of his black corduroy bomber jacket, and spoke low and slow. ‘This is Team Alpha. We clear to move yet? Over.’ Brits found his thick Yorkshire accent hard enough to understand; fuck knows what the Americans at the other end would make of it.

He was talking to a P3 aircraft circling some twenty-five thousand feet above our heads. Bristling with thermal imaging equipment to warn us of any impending threat while we were on the job, it also carried an immensely powerful infrared torch. I checked that my one-inch square of luminous tape was still stuck on my shoulder. The aircraft’s IR