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LIBYA, six months later.
Monday, March 31, 1986.
Not a blade of grass, not a single plant, bush, or tree, nothing but burnt sienna sand stretched for miles across this wind-burnished landscape—nothing except a concrete pipeline that slithered over the dunes like an immense, sunbathing rattlesnake.
The infernal stillness was soon broken by the rising whisk of rotors. A Libyan Air Force helicopter came streaking low over the Sahara, sunlight reflecting off its windshield like a flashing strobe.
Saddam Moncrieff sat next to the pilot, staring at the endless miles of concrete pipe that passed directly beneath him, contemplating a problem. A hydrologist of international repute, the pensive Saudi had engineered a plan to solve Libya's serious water shortage, a shortage compounded by the high salt content of rain-fed wells, the nation's only source. Even in Tripoli, tap water had become barely drinkable.
Subterranean aquifers discovered beneath the Sahara by American geologists searching for oil were the key to Moncrieff s plan: hundreds of wells drilled in the desert would pump 200 million cubic feet of water a day, twice OPEC's daily output of oil, through 2,500 miles of pipeline to Libya's thirsty cities.
The sections of concrete pipe, each 13 feet in diameter and weighing 73 tons, were manufactured round the clock at a modern desert complex; and Moncrieff s aerial survey of wellheads and pipeline had confirmed that the project was right on schedule. Despite it, Libya's Great Man-Made River Project was in jeopardy. The subterranean reservoirs were drying up. By the time the $20 billion undertaking was completed, there would be little if any water to pump through it; and the Saudi had just determined beyond doubt that the cause was a dam that had diverted its source—a dam built several years before in neighboring Tunisia.
Contrary to popular conception, Tunisia had plenty of water, as did neighboring Algeria and Morocco. The mountain ranges of the northern Maghreb—where ski resorts remain open well into April—were a copious watershed, supplying a string of oases that ran south to the city of Nefta. Here, hundreds of natural springs were funneled into an east-flowing tributary. It eventually drained deep into thirsty salt lakes, creating underground rivers that for eons had flowed hundreds of miles beneath the Sahara into Libya, feeding the subterranean Jabal Al Hasawnah water fields.
But Nefta Dam had blocked this tributary. Now, where there had been nothing, an immense, glass-smooth lake encircled by lush palm forests, olive groves, and fields of barley stretched to the horizon. Unfortunately, though a boon to Tunisia's economy, the dam had cut off the supply of water to Libya's reservoirs.
That was Moncrieff s problem; that and the fact that he was on his way to meet with Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi to decide how to deal with it.
The sun was burning through a light mist as the helicopter came in over the desert and landed at the Bab al Azziziya Barracks south of downtown Tripoli.
Moncrieff was ushered into the boldly patterned tent that served as Qaddafi's personal domicile, joining the colonel, his chief of staff, General Younis, and several economic and industrial advisers.
Qaddafi wore a bulletproof vest and maroon beret embroidered with the Insignia of Islam. He sat on the edge of a desk beneath the soaring fabric and harsh fluorescents, digesting Moncrieff s report.
Ten years before, Qaddafi, the son of an illiterate Bedouin shepherd, had cut a shrewd deal with the Ivy League presidents of Western oil companies. The money provided free housing, education, and medical care for his people. But the lack of water threatened his vision for Libya's future.
When Moncrieff and the members of Qaddafi's staff were seated and had ceased to murmur among themselves, the Libyan leader looked up and broke the stillness. "We're going into Tunisia," he said quietly.
A stunned silence fell over the group.
A look flicked between Moncrieff and Younis.
The general was a short man with rigid posture that suited his title. "Send a military force across the border?" he finally asked, wary of Qaddafi's impulsive bent for invading his neighbors. An attack on the Tunisian city of Gafsa in 1980 and the current war with Chad, a demoralizing struggle over a worthless strip of desert, were its most recent manifestations. True, the lack of water was arguably a more noble and justifiable motive but, as the general knew, Tunisia was a far more formidable adversary.
"We have no choice," Qaddafi replied, going on to remind his staff that relations between the two nations were strained and that it would be unrealistic to expect even a staunch ally, let alone Tunisia, to destroy a multibillion dollar investment. "I suggest an air strike, carried out at night by bombers flying below radar at supersonic speed," Qaddafi concluded. "In a matter of minutes that dam would be a pile of rubble; and it would be over before Tunisian Air Defense knew it had even happened, let alone who did it."
Younis's face stiffened with grave concern.
"You don't agree?" Qaddafi challenged.
"On the contrary," the general replied. "Unfortunately, we don't have aircraft capable of it."
Qaddafi's eyes narrowed, forcing vertical creases deep into his forehead. After a moment, he removed a thick, soft-cover volume from a bookcase behind his desk.
The Military Balance was published annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. It quantitatively assessed the armed forces of more than 140 countries. The colonel relied on it to keep informed of the strength of enemies and allies alike, the latter with an eye to purchasing military hardware. He turned to the section where the Libyan Air Force was inventoried:
BOMBERS: 6 TU-22
INTERCEPTORS: 26 MIRAGE F-1ED, 4 F-1BD
131 MIG-23 FLOGGER
49 MIG-25 FOXBAT A
49 MIG-21, 12 25U
GROUND ATTACK 45 MIRAGE 5D/DE, 13 5DD
FIGHTERS: 14 MIRAGE F-1AD
44 MIG-23BM FLOGGER F
90 SU-20/22 FITTER E/F/J
The list further enumerated helicopters, transports, and trainers. Qaddafi pointed to the total. "We have five hundred and forty-four combat aircraft," he intoned. "None are capable of flying this mission?"
"Four hundred and fifty-one are inoperable, sir," Younis said gently, citing a statistic in the report Qaddafi was conveniently ignoring. "We are woefully short of maintenance technicians, and spare parts. Only our SU-22s are—"
"Well, what about them?" Qaddafi challenged, zeroing in on the mainstay of his air force.
"A defensive weapon, nothing more," Younis explained. "Even in broad daylight it can barely—"
"We've spent billions, billions, and still can't take out an unprotected dam?" Qaddafi bellowed.
"Not at night. Not at supersonic speed. Not below radar. Not in Tunisia without getting caught, sir," Younis replied evenly. "No."
Qaddafi ran a hand through his wiry hair, pondering the problem. "The Soviets will never sell us these aircraft," he concluded sharply. "They're worried we're defaulting on the five billion we already owe them."
Moncrieff had been quietly observing and analyzing. "Moscow isn't the only source," he said calmly after a long silence.
Qaddafi's eyes shifted to the Saudi. "Where else?"
"Washington," Moncrieff replied softly.
Younis looked stunned.
The colonel concealed his surprise, his large head tilting back at the familiar cocky angle. He had no doubt Moncrieff was serious. He knew the Saudi could make things happen; that he had powerful international connections; that he was different, privileged.
The Saudi prince had been educated in Switzerland and France as well as the London School of Economics, where he had honed his exceptional analytical skills. Indeed, Moncrieff had been the first to realize that finding a solution for the lack of water, not milking the abundance of oil, was the key to economic growth in the Middle East. It was a theory that had brought him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a doctorate in hydrology.
"I'd be happy to explore the matter, sir," Moncrieff said coolly.
"What would they want in exchange? My head?" Qaddafi cracked, knowing he had nothing that could induce the United States to give supersonic bombers to him, the financier of international terrorism.
"No, sir," Moncrieff replied, not daring to laugh. "I'm quite certain acceptable currency can be acquired. However, delicate linkages would be involved. I'd need your help to secure them."
"A meeting with Chairman Arafat would be essential—a private meeting."
Qaddafi was considering it when the swish of a tent flap behind him broke his concentration.
An aide-de-camp entered and delivered a communiqué. "From the People's Bureau in Rome, sir."
Qaddafi took the envelope, broke the seal, and removed a cable, which read:
WE HAVE AN EVENT PLANNED THAT WILL PLEASE YOU.
The colonel looked up, smiling, and announced, "It seems our friends in Rome plan to celebrate Easter with a bang." Then he went to his desk to make a phone call.
Younis took Moncrieff aside. "These bombers—you understand, they must, must have electro-optical guidance," he sternly warned, referring to the state-of-the-art system that allows a pilot to locate his target at supersonic speed in total darkness and destroy it with bombs that home on a laser frequency.
"It's called Pave Tack," Moncrieff replied.CHAPTER 2
THE GENERAL DYNAMICS F-111 had Pave Tack. It had APQ 144 forward-looking attack radar, ASQ 133 digital fire control, and APQ 138 terrain-following radar.
The F-111 had everything; and Major Walter Shepherd, United States Air Force, lived to fly it.
An airborne stiletto, Shepherd thought, the first time he saw the bomber's crisp edges, long, pointed snout, and swept-back wings. He knew it was a hot aircraft, one whose performance far outstripped its nickname; sure, the Aardvark was a bomber—a bomber with the speed and agility of a supersonic fighter.
The instrumentation was dazzling: navigation computer screen at left, Pave Tack radar at right joined by rows of flight systems gauges, topped by HUD, the heads up display system that projects data onto the canopy, allowing the pilot to keep his eye on the target while the weapons systems officer destroys it.
Walt Shepherd knew every square inch of his plane, every rivet, wire, computer chip, and data readout; his name was stenciled on the nose gear door. The United States government may have paid General Dynamics $67 million for it—but it was his plane.
Sixteen years ago, he was a twenty-two-year-old second lieutenant fresh out of flight school when he started flying them. Assigned to a special squadron during the last years of the Vietnam War, Shepherd flew dozens of F-111 missions. Indeed, while many protested and avoided service, Walt Shepherd was flying an untested bomber in combat, and counted himself lucky to have the opportunity. Military service was a family tradition—God, love of country, a strong national defense were its guiding principles. An Eagle Scout by age fourteen, he delivered newspapers with dedication and sang with the Friendship Church choir. Like many towns in the southwestern pocket of Oklahoma, towns with names like Granite, Sentinel, and Victory, Friendship's economy was dependent on nearby Altus Air Force Base. As a teenager, Shepherd spent many afternoons watching military jets taking off; and despite his gentle nature, their thundering roar stirred something in him, something primal and raw that bonded with his unquestioning sense of duty, giving rise to a powerful yearning for combat.
Officially, Major Shepherd flew with the 253rd squadron of the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing at Cannon AFB in New Mexico. Three years ago in a TAC reshuffle, he came east to fly a routine operational readiness inspection. A clever and resourceful thinker with a flair for tactical innovation, Shepherd proved so adept at playing the enemy and penetrating radar defenses with his F-111 that he was assigned to the Pentagon to document his expertise and develop training programs. He had since been temporarily stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.
On this cold, crystal clear morning, he was in the kitchen of his home on Ashwood Circle, a wooded cul-de-sac in the officers' family housing sector, helping his two-year-old into a snowsuit.
"Come on, Jeffrey, hold still," Shepherd admonished in his easy drawl, finally getting it zipped up.
"Bathroom," the squirming child protested, clutching his crotch with mittened hands. "Bathroom."
Shepherd let out a sigh. "Take him, will you?" he asked Laura, who had bounded into the kitchen, donning a parka.
The thirteen-year-old took one look at her heavily bundled brother and presented Shepherd with an open palm.
"Two bucks," she said with a grin.
"Hold out for a dollar," her mother chimed in, fighting a roll of plastic wrap, one eye on the small television atop the counter tuned to the "Today Show."
"Steph," Shepherd protested.
The phone rang. Shepherd answered it. "Congressman Guth-erie's office," he said, handing it to Stephanie.
She wiggled her brows in anticipation, making him laugh, and moved aside with the phone. A bright, ingenuously sexy woman, at thirty-seven Stephanie Shepherd still had the freshness of the University of Denver journalism student who had caught Walt's eye at an Air Force Academy mixer nearly twenty years ago.
"Wish we were going with you, Daddy," Laura pouted, glancing at her father's luggage next to the door.
"Me too," Shepherd said warmly, "but you know—"
"Yeah, I know, I can't miss school."
"I'll miss you, princess."
"You're going to miss the finals too," Laura said, referring to her upcoming gymnastics competition. She was standing next to the television when Willard Scott's folksy weather report segued to an update of the morning's top news stories.
"A terrorist bomb exploded aboard a TWA 727 jetliner en route from Rome to Athens, yesterday," the newsreader somberly reported. "Authorities said those responsible are believed to be supported by, if not actual agents of, Libyan strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi. The explosion tore a hole in the fuselage, killing four American passengers who were sucked out of the plane, and fell fifteen thousand feet to their deaths."
Laura turned to her father, her face a bewildered mask. "How can people do things like that?"
"They're uncivilized, sweetheart," Shepherd gently explained, turning off the television. "They don't play by the rules the way we do."
The child nodded sadly, a dozen questions in her eyes, then she took Jeffrey's hand and headed for the bathroom.
"The interview's set for this afternoon," Stephanie announced brightly, hanging up the phone. She worked as a reporter for the Capitol Flyer, the base newspaper, and Andrews was in the congressman's district.
"I hope he voted for the ERA," Shepherd teased.
A horn beeped outside. Their faces tightened apprehensively. They looked at each other for a long moment, then kissed.
"Something else you're going to miss," Stephanie whispered as their lips parted.
"You bet; twenty years with a sex-crazed journalist isn't the sort of thing that just slips a man's mind."
"Walt," she admonished gently, unable to suppress a girlish giggle. "I meant our anniversary."
"I know," he said more seriously. "We'll do something special as soon as you come to England."
They were still embracing when the children returned and the horn beeped again. Shepherd kissed and hugged each of them, then hefted the luggage and went out the kitchen door to the air force van in the driveway.
Excerpted from Purpose of Evasion by Greg Dinallo. Copyright © 1990 Greg Dinallo. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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