Entry 40 – Sandstorm
Nobody slept last night. I couldn’t blame them; even I was sleeping with one eye open – or attempting so, anyway. The desert is full of sounds and every time we heard anything suspicious, be it the scurrying of a mouse passing by our tent or the whispers of the desert wind Sahara is so known for, we’d jump up with pistols in our hands, ready to strike at the unseen enemy. Even through the day, the men felt like being watched, some even catching a glimpse of shadows between the dunes.
Our morale quickly fell to a point where several people turned to drinking and at one point I even suspected foul play and performed an analysis of our drinking water using one of several easy-to-use kits we had left, so quickly were things falling apart. Even Ferguson seemed extra worried on the comms and I suspected that were it not for Gail, I’d be far worse off. She and Jim were one of the few people strong enough to not only stay composed the entire time, but to walk around the camp, offering encouragements and helping wherever they could.
Little did we know that as bad as things were, they would still take a turn for the worse.
It started in the afternoon – the howling of a Sirocco that blew clouds of dust and sand into our eyes. And then – a full-blown sandstorm on the horizon. I’ve never seen a storm move that fast. It was almost like in the movies – one moment it seemed to be miles away from us and the next we were covering our faces with whatever we could find, running for cover.
The storm raged for hours and by the time the winds abated, it was almost morning. We lost seven people that night, who failed to find cover quick enough. I, Gail and several other troopers managed to hunker down in a Puma but the rest of the guys got hit hard. About half of our equipment got buried in the sand, including the fuel trucks. The comms were out too and we couldn’t really figure out why. Could have been the sand, could have been the static electricity binding the storm together. Whatever it was, it friend the sensitive equipment and we were left with a couple of hand-held GPS receivers and some personal computers stored in the IFVs. Several hours later, with all our losses accounted for, one thing was clear. The mission was over.
Perhaps it was fate that we ran into another group of nomads later that day. We almost started shooting as soon as they appeared but perhaps it was sheer luck that prevented us making a mistake. These weren’t the people we were on the lookout for – instead of a nomadic Bedouin tribe, we ran into a group of mercenaries from Chad, escorting a VIP of one sort or another through the desert. Where and why they would not tell but instead of threats, they offered aid in exchange for hard cash and some supplies that we could spare – the power of the almighty Dollar in action. And so begun our trip back to Algiers.