Dmitri’s father, Yuri, had fought in Afghanistan and during his long slow slide into vodka-fueled oblivion had regained his son with tales of that desert hell of scorpions and Stinger missiles.

He found Syria to be its match, bug for bug, bullet for bullet. The only difference was that instead of a hundred thousand comrades-in-arms, he had half a battallion of naval infantry at Latakia, a close-support air group, and a section of Vega Group special forces. That and the Syrians themselves, who Dmitri held in utter contempt. Too many of his men were there because of threats, and he’d seen them break and run under sustained enemy fire.

The really good troops, the Republican Guard? Dmitri had a respect for them. But Assad, that crafty jackal, wouldn’t even let the Russians, his only friends in the world, tell his personal troops with skulls on their shoulders what to do.

So Dmitri sat and waited, coordinating his men as best he could with those Syrians the kleptocrats saw fit to give him command over, coordinating and leading assaults to fight fires as they arose.

“We’ve got a signal,” one of his local techs said, in English. God, how Dmitri hated the soft sound of that mongrel tongue, but it was the only way to make himself understood.

“What is it?” he barked.

“Message is as follows: Site 38 overrun. Foreign fighters reported present. Foriegn nationals present. Request full ground, air support.”

“Is it a proper communication?”

“The code checks out.”

Dmitri massaged his temples. “Send word to the SU-25s at 06-07,” he said. “I want them fueled and loaded for a strike on my mark.”

“Yes sir.”

“What about the Crocodile helicopters at 04-05?” Dmitri said. “Do we have a status update after their last mission?”

“04-05 reports Crocodiles are being repaired and rearmed.”

“Keep me posted on their status, I want them available for close-in support if necessary.” Dmitri rose and tugged at his uniform shirt. “Radio that bastard Abdul and tell him to get his sorry excuse for a recon unit in gear. I’ll meet them in a hour.”

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