A mission, perhaps? I ran to the jeep and hopped in as Vasily impatiently gunned the motor. Breathlessly, I questioned him.
“Yes, yes, all in good time!”
Vasily’s eyes twinkled. An opportunity to tease me like this, he cannot pass up.
“You have been an idler far too long, Sacha. As you will see, the Rodina still has need of our skills together! I am sure we will kill mujahids today, I saw it in the Commander’s eye when he told me to come find you.”
I am most definitely not dressed to visit the Commander! I was off duty, and am in civilian attire! Vasily, however, laughs. It seems that we will have time to change — just. And we are wanted in flight gear! So, it is to be a mission after all!
At the squadron dormitory, I hurriedly don my green flight coveralls, and grab the bag with my white helmet, and my G-suit and maps. I have not flown since the Samelalio attack and I will be rusty. I wonder what the Commander has planned. In the Operations Room, the Commander is poring over a map of the southern coastal plain. He casts an approving eye over Vasily and I.
“So, my young falcons. You are ready to fly. Alexandra Dimitrievna, I trust you have learned my lesson to you well? And now, I ask you as I did before, has the Surgeon cleared you for combat missions?”
“Ye-yes, sir. I can fly now.”
“Excellent! I cannot have you grounded any longer. I have what the Americans call the ‘milk-run’ to get you back in shape.”
He smiled and handed Vasily and I a sheaf of photographs.
“A radio station?” Vasily sounded confused.
“Da. What you see is the central radio broadcasting facility for this part of the country. In Soviet times, it was part of the state network. Now, things have changed. And the Georgians have allowed Muqtadeh to take it from them.”
His face darkened.
“And they murdered the staff as well. Hanged them, publicly, in central Gudauta city before the Georgians could mobilize a response.”
I marveled at this information. “But we have an airbase there! Have our allies so little control in their city?”
“One wonders…” The Commander’s voice was sour.
“But that is not the strangest thing, my young falcons. We have been contacted, through the Georgian defense minister, by the Mufti of Suhumi. He is the eldest, the most senior of the Muslim clerics in the south. When Muqtadeh took the radio station, he renamed it ‘the Voice of the Prophet.’ He now broadcasts the vilest propaganda, calling for Jihad against not only us, but against the moderate clerics of the region as well, for not being ‘pure’ enough. The Mufti wishes this voice silenced! And we will help, if only to gain a Muslim ally in this war.”
Our orders were simple and to the point: Destroy the radio facility. Future broadcasting would be done either from the airbase itself, or from a reconstructed facility not under IRLF control. By bombing the place, we kill the IRLF technicians and broadcasters that operate it, and deal another setback to the Sheikh’s plans.
But that was not all. We also found that the IRLF planned to garrison the radio station and turn it into a headquarters for the area. To this end, weapons and anti-aircraft supplies are being trucked in by the IRLF’s Suhumi Battalion. If we see the convoy, we are ordered to attack and sow confusion so that the Georgian paramilitary police may finish them.
Vasily and I considered our options carefully. The radio station is located in the heart of the city, actually in sight of the airbase! We must bomb carefully. A missed strike will kill innocents. But at the same time, we must create havoc among the IRLF.
I choose two FAB-500 bombs and two RBK-500AO cluster weapons. The cluster weapons have only twelve bomblets each and their spread can be confined to a small area. But the FAB bombs will have to be carefully targeted, for the shrapnel and shock wave will injure civilians.