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Cover story

 Write for The Iranian

Conspiracy at Desert One
A novel

By Bernace Charles
The Iranian

Chapter Fifty-Two

Desert one

As Laleh and Karim lay motionless, the engines of the plane drew nearer. Laleh and Karim listened to the sound. However, before the plane reached them to circle the landing zone, they heard the rumbling of a truck bearing down the graded road. It came from the southwest. Both expected the truck to stop and wait for men to exit the plane after it landed. But the truck kept barreling along.

It was 10:35 p.m. As the lead Talon closed on the section of desert the pilot said, We're over it . . . activate the lights."

A man on the flight deck flipped a switch and sent a radio signal that activated lights buried in the desert by a CIA reconnaissance mission. Battery powered lights pushed up through the sand to light a strip along the east side of the road and opposite the side where Karim and Laleh lay.

As the lead Talon made a pass, its lower turret extended. With it making monitor contact, and with its infrared sensors turned on, the power of the coal black plane grew louder as the plane circled to intrude out of the night sky. The truck came out of the dark and heading toward Tabas. The Talon passed above it as those on the flight deck feared that the driver had heard the plane. There were also the lights lighting the landing zone. The truck didn't stop.

Minutes later, and after they heard the plane make a third go-round, Laleh knew it made an alignment for landing. For its nose gear to be lowered she also knew the turret for the infrared screen would be retracted. She brought her head from under the cover and stared into the night.

The Talon touched down and a shutter went through it. After a long roll, it came to a stop. It was 10:45 p.m. Five further C-130s were in flight and entering Iranian airspace. Russ Camron was piloting one of three EC-130 fuel carriers within the diamond box of the flight pattern of the five planes. The planes were to land fifteen minutes ahead of the helicopters.

With the plane landing it rolled to a stop and its rear door lowered. Army rangers rushed off the Talon and quickly set-off to secure the road to the west and east. Colonel Keller was out the rear cargo door for only a few minutes, when he saw flashing lights heading in the direction of the plane. A bus flashed its lights from high to low beam as it drove straight into the operation. It was the second vehicle to pass through the landing zone in less than five minutes. The second vehicle drove straight toward the Talon as the plane now sat at the side of the road.

Laleh and Karim watched. Instead of the bus being one to pick up men exiting the Talon, Laleh and Karim heard the rattle of automatic weapons firing. The bus came to a stop fifty yards from the plane.

Army rangers stopped the bus. Colonel Keller was angry that forty-four Iranians now accompanied the Americans. The rescue-effort wasn't getting off to a good start, and it was less than ten minutes on the ground. Keller scanned the western perimeter with night-vision goggles. His vision passed over the roll in the distance where Laleh and Karim lay. Laleh saw Keller through the starlight scope. She slipped down and pulled at Karim's arm. She said, "They've got some kind of night vision equipment. We've got to be careful waiting for the helicopters." She took off what gave appearance of a bracelet, removed the starlight scope from the rifle, and attached a thirty-five-millimeter camera to it.

As Karim watched, combat controllers set up lights for the following planes. In total surprise, the distant sound of a hail of M16 bullets sent into the engine of a truck rattled through the night. Sargent Steve Walkens released a, "Damn!" As he did, an Army Ranger fired an antitank missile. A second truck had driven into the operation. It exploded into a burning, bright glow. The resulting fire lighted the night making the night vision goggles useless if turned in the fire's direction.

The sound of the explosion caused Laleh to turn the Starlight scope in the direction of the fire. The firelight being enhanced in the scope momentarily blinded her. A second vehicle did exactly what Karim said might happen. Another unlucky Iranian drove straight into the landing zone and Laleh wondered why the Americans selected the area. It didn't make sense.

Colonel Keller looked in the direction of the explosion, "Damn it . . . what was that?"

The leader of Delta Force answered, "I don't figgin' know, but whatever it was . . . it isn't any more!"

Keller said an angry, "Damn it! We've been on this piece of desert for less than ten minutes! What is this? The Hollywood Freeway!"

A man helping with the TACOM answered, "We'll know soon enough if the Iranians start squawking over the air. If they don't . . . it could be someone running contraband gasoline."

Suddenly, a jeep that exited the Talon to set the southwest roadblock rolled in in a cloud of sand produced by a sliding stop. It stopped before Colonel Keller. The leader of Delta Force asked a man coming out of it, "What the hell happened?"

"A truck came in from the west. The driver wouldn't stop. He got out and took off with a small truck following him. They took off to the north too fast for us to stop them."

The leader of Delta Force said, "We'll take the bus passengers out with us. We'll drive the buss into the truck and let them think it was an accident. The passengers wandered off into the desert. It'll take them days to find out differently."

Keller was glad to hear the words. They gave a plausible answer to a major problem.

Laleh knew the light of the fire to her and Karim's back blinded others looking in their direction with the night-vision equipment. She turned the Starlight Scope and camera to the effort before her. She lay low in the sand with Karim beside her. Karim asked, "Are you crazy? We're not here to take photographs."

"The fire will blind them if they look in this direction. Too much light did the same to me. It did it to the scope. I'm going to record this night. No one will touch my daughter or me if they think there are photographs."

Karim realized the depth of wisdom of the woman. She didn't intend to die for knowledge of some operation gone wrong in the American Intelligence Community.

Now, the Americans were having the worst luck they could possibly have in bringing their planes and helicopter force together. Dust clouds to the south were making the chopper's flights like flying through a sea of fine, white dust. Unknown to Colonel Keller, two of the choppers set down in the desert before entering the first of two clouds. Helo number six's instrument panel began to flash a warning light stating there was a nitrogen leak in a rotor blade and possibly causing structural failure. After setting down and checking the system and rotor-blades the crew of helicopter six abandoned their chopper to board number eight. With the chopper lifting off the desert floor, its crew soon encountered their first experience of dust suspended in the desert air.

The remaining C-130s were now 160 miles from Desert 1. Russ Camron's plane was out of the planned formation but making certain to stay in position with planes three, four, and six. The planes flew through the heat as their inertial navigation systems and their terrain-following radar guided them over the expanse of desert. However, as the lead Talon approached Desert 1, it was a different story for the helicopters. They entered and broke out of the first dust cloud to find themselves entering a second wall of powder like sand.

Helicopters 1 and 2 turned back, set down, and their pilots attempted to evaluate the situation. Helicopters four, five, seven, and eight weren't aware the lead chopper and commander had turned back.

The only other chopper seeing number one's turn was number two helo, and its pilot followed the unit's leader. Now, and on the ground they sent a coded, urgent message of zero visibility. The pilot of helo one was worried; "I don't know what the hell this is; it's like flying through frigin' talcum powder! The others didn't see us turn back. We've got to go on!" He sent a message over the craft's SATCOM radio stating the visibility problem. It was after sending the message when the pilot and leader of the group realized the others didn't see their turn. Five of the choppers pressed deeper into the second cloud and with the group further separating.

At Desert 1, Colonel Keller knew nothing of the status of the helicopters other than number eight's crew who abandoned it. If the others made it, they would be down to seven. Number one and two helos were again airborne. However, helo two now experienced the loss of its second-stage hydraulic system for powering its number one Automatic Flight Control System. With helo number two's problems, the pilot of number five was experiencing vertigo and considering turning back to the Nimitz. By computing fuel needs, he knew he might not make it back to the carrier. In addition, with flight instrument problems displaying pitch and roll, and with the backup indicator sticking during turns, helo two's pilot decided to turn back. The helicopter force was now down to its minimum of six choppers.


As the helicopter force fought its problems, Laleh watched the scene before her through the lens of her camera and the Starlight Scope. There were now four C-130s setting on the desert floor and with their engines running. With the moon being at 70 percent, Karim and Laleh watched the first two planes depart. However, because of the fire and no-show of the helicopters, Laleh hoped the force would withdraw. Knowing the operation was falling behind schedule, she ignored placing the scope on the rifle. Karim hadn't loaded the first shell. The rifle lay between them on the thermal blanket.

Laleh spoke to Karim in a voice above the roar of the planes' engines, "We'll wait and see where the helicopters come in. Maybe they're having problems. Maybe they'll get the hell out of here."

Karim said, "If they bring helicopters this far they'll have to refuel them whether they stay or leave." Karim took the camera and looked through the starlight scope. He saw the difference in the scene as compared to his eyesight. He could see the full aircraft and the men moving on the road. Karim fixed his attention on Colonel Keller who stood on the road and speaking with a man dressed in a dark field jacket.

Karim knew time was running out for the Americans. If they were going to refuel and fly to a prearranged position for the next night's effort, any helicopter force needed to arrive. Now, the desert was partially ablaze with landing lights set up by combat control officers. Karim also knew men would feel the repercussions of the effort throughout the world. Careers would climb or fall because of its success or failure.

Laleh reached for the rifle. She said, "Listen. The helos are coming. "

Out of the distance, increasing in its approach, the sound of the "whoop, whoop" of a helicopter's blades came out of the night. The helicopter force was going to arrive to ferry troops to a position near Tehran and Laleh regretted it. She removed the camera from the Starlight Scope and handed the camera to Karim. She said, "I have to do it. If the helicopters are getting through . . . they'll press forward. Give me the first shell."

Karim answered, "I loaded it."

Laleh attached the scope to the rifle.

Karim said, "Wait and see what happens. You said they need six. Maybe they won't make it. The fire has to be seen by someone." >>> Go to Chapter Fifty-Three

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