“You have my report,” said Noat.

“I want to hear it from your own lips,” replied Izaah. “Reports lack so much of the immediacy of face-to-face interaction.”

“Very well,” Noat said. “Government troops have been routed from Maharbal and its approaches by a combined force of our troops and local militias.”

“Excellent,” said Izaah. “Those were State Guard units defending it, weren’t they?”

“Yes, elements of the 31st State Guards,” Noat said. “Supported by artillery from the Marhabal Heights, which we have also taken.”

“Did the Guards retire in good order?”

“Not at all. About half of them were killed or deserted, and those that maintained cohesion abandoned their weapons and heavy equipment. The exact numbers are in my report, but our troops and the militia more or less evenly divided a large cache of small arms, artillery, and armored fighting vehicles.”

“Excellent!” crowed Izaah. “That will be all.”

Noat hesitated. “There was more in my report,” he said. “The militia has failed to preserve public order in Marhabal, and there has been widespread looting and sectarian killing. We also have reports that the militia we left in charge of Ecnav have declared for their commander as a warlord and have begun extorting their citizens and those passing through the area for tolls.”

“But they haven’t gone over to the Government?” Izaah asked.

“No, and Government forces have made no attempt to enter those areas. But the breakdown of order reflects poorly on us, and the collapse of any interim administration risks making the area ungovernable when the State Guard is no longer present as a unifying force.”

“They are still rebels in good standing,” Izaah said dismissively. “That will be all, Noat.”

“Sir, we absolutely must commit regular forces to the liberated areas, give them administrators, and disarm the militias if we are to-”

“That will be all, Noat.” Izaah said again, harshly.

Noat saluted and left the command bunker. “Vincere scis, Hannibal; victoria uti nescis,” he muttered. “Hannibal, you know how to gain a victory, but not how to use one.”

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