Excerpt from Route of Evil
More than 3,000 miles away in an old airport hangar in Lincolnshire in the UK a pilot of a drone scrambled his superiors to join him beside his console.
His RAF unit, 13 Squadron, controlled ten MQ-9 Reaper drones operating from Kandahar airport in Afghanistan. The Reaper’s prime role was surveillance but it could readily be equipped with laser-guided bombs or missiles to carry out strikes on identified terrorists and insurgents. Reapers, US and British, had flown thousands of missions from Afghanistan, around 10% of these had been used to execute bomb or missile strikes.
The pilot was reaching the end of his shift. He had been in charge of take-off and flown a lengthy surveillance sortie over the Pakistan badlands. He would soon be relieved though the drone would continue its operation with a new pilot concluding the mission then finishing his shift by landing the Reaper back in Kandahar.
During the flight he had been charged with ticking off various surveillance targets, checking certain locations were still occupied, that nothing had changed. While monitoring one site, he noticed a ground force stealthily approaching a compound of interest and he held station and watched as the perimeter guards were taken out.
Keeping observation on the site, his specialist cameras recorded an individual entering the residence and from the heat patterns he could only assume that this individual had shot the two occupants and swiftly left. As the compound was on his watch list the occupants were troublemakers, but he stifled any feeling of celebration with his bosses crowded around his workstation.
They needed to establish if this was an authorised attack that had failed to be included in their briefing. The operator knew SNAFUs like this were not particularly unusual, but whether this would prove to be a full-blown FUBAR was well above his pay grade to judge.
He later recorded as a number of local people approached the compound at pace, but the intruders had already safely evacuated in the opposite direction. He had no idea of the origin of the attacking force but had coloured them on his screen as friendlies given that the action had been directed against a known terrorist target.
Once it was established this was not one of their own missions, the video of the event would be pored over by both the UK’s SIS and the States’ CIA. This was not because they had any qualms about Al-Azzam being killed. It was a matter of professional pride. Who else might have mounted such a successful expedition?