The American businessman lay shackled in a mud hut 8,000 feet up a remote mountain in Afghanistan, armed captors posted inside and outside to prevent any escape attempt.
Earlier in his captivity, he had made a run for it, but â€” barefoot and much older than the insurgents who held him â€” he was snatched back before he could get far.
After nearly two months in captivity and out of contact with anyone who cared about him, the hostage reviewed what his fate might hold â€” whether ransom negotiations or rescue efforts or a miracle might bring him freedom. …
On an airstrip many miles away, however, several twin sets of Chinook helicopter rotor blades were starting to turn as about 60 of Americaâ€™s most elite troops prepared to prove him wrong. Members of a task force that Military Times agreed not to name, the commandos had been hunting for the businessman since soon after he went missing. Now they were ready to act. …
Surrounded by â€œtreacherous terrain,â€ the kidnappersâ€™ location represented the most challenging aspect of the rescue mission, he said.
But the rugged remoteness of their hideaway appears to have led to fatal overconfidence among the Americanâ€™s kidnappers.
â€œHe had captors who thought we wouldnâ€™t be able to deal with that terrain,â€ the special operations officer said.
That, the officer added, was a mistake. Seven years of experience in Afghanistan have enabled U.S. special operators to adapt to the unforgiving landscape.
â€œThe terrain is really not a challenge any more,â€ he said. â€œIt slows you down, but it slows them down, too.â€ …
As night fell Oct. 14, three Chinook helicopters flew into the mountains and inserted roughly 24 to 30 special operators â€” most of them Navy SEALs â€” about three miles from the kidnappersâ€™ hideout to minimize the chance of being seen or heard.
There they established an objective rally point â€” typically, the site where a spec ops force stows unnecessary gear and puts security teams out while those making the final approach to the target transform into â€œpure assault mode,â€ said a source familiar with such missions.
From the ORP, an assault force of seven operators â€” all or almost all SEALs, according to the special operations officer â€” crept toward the objective.
One of the commandos tossed a pebble against the hutâ€™s tin door â€” a traditional way visitors announce their arrival in rural Afghanistan.
The rattle of the stone against the door failed to rouse the guards. â€œThey were both zipped up inside their sleeping bags, sleeping,â€ one behind the hostage on the floor of the darkened hut and the other outside, the engineer said. But their prisoner was awake and suddenly alert.
â€œI heard the latch rattling and somebody came in,â€ he said. â€œThe first guy came in with a LED light, and I just presumed that somebody was coming to visit. I didnâ€™t think of it anymore until the second guy came in and I saw the silhouette of the first fellow. Then I knew it was U.S. mil that was coming in. I donâ€™t know how many guys actually came into the room, but it was soon filled up, and it was soon obvious that I was being rescued. …
â€œThey knew who was who,â€ the engineer said. the SEALs quickly demonstrated that, aiming their silencer-equipped weapons to shoot and kill the kidnapper in the room before he could fire a round. The engineer said he heard the sounds of the operators shooting and killing a guard posted outside.
The SEALs turned to the now former hostage and told him they were there to take him back.
â€œI was in favor of that, 100 percent,â€ he said. â€œI was very surprised, very amazed and very happy.â€
It was about 3 a.m. The operators and the newly liberated hostage began walking to the pick-up zone. …
The rescued hostage soon was safely back at the task forceâ€™s main base, where the task force gave him a thorough medical evaluation before turning him over to the U.S. Embassy.
Hat tip to Bill Dupray.