About four weeks had passed since our little jaunt out into the wilderness with the Dealer soldiers. Their company that had been living with us had packed up and moved back to Dealer Base leaving us to run the Reserve and its surrounding area as we saw fit. We had already fallen into a rhythm of sending a patrol out early in the morning and late at night, splitting the two squads into shifts that rarely saw each other.

One massive thorn in our side was Captain Scream. Scream was the commander of Dealer and therefore technically in charge of us. He always came up with big, pointless missions and had us carry out raids on houses where he thought high-value targets lived.

Scream had never once been right about any of the raids. We were getting sick of being sent on wild goose chases in the middle of the night.

One day, while Nan was pulling the graveyard shift in the radio room with our platoon leader, Lieutenant Ginger, Scream’s voice crackled to life over the radio. His voice sounded as if it had been put through a belt sander and he had a healthy, three-pack-a-day smoking habit.

“Spartan Six, this is Dealer Six,” Scream’s gravelly voice echoed.

Spartan Six was Ginger’s radio call sign.

Nan was asleep on the floor of the radio room; Ginger was passed out in a broken swivel chair. They were both startled awake by the radio. No one ever tried to contact us in the middle of the night. Most units we ran into didn’t even know the Reserve existed, let alone our radio frequency.

“This is Spartan Base,” Nan croaked, still waking up. “Send your traffic.”

“I’ll be arriving at your location in fifteen minutes,” Scream said.

At that, Ginger shot to his feet and rushed out the door to start waking up our squad and team leaders.

Ginger, Thad, Slim, Nan, and I were all standing in the tiny mud-brick radio room to meet Scream when he walked in. All of us were wishing we were still in our beds.

“All right guys, code name Cobra was last reported in your area,” Scream announced. For some reason, he came up with code names for all the high-value targets, as if they were somehow listening in on our meeting. “We tracked his cell phone to a compound less than a mile from here.”

“What’s the plan, sir?” Ginger asked with disinterest. He knew any plan Scream concocted wouldn’t be followed anyway.

“Your trucks will surround the compound to make sure no one runs off. Then you send in dismounted soldiers to raid it,” Scream said. He was clearly pretty proud of his plan. By the tone of his voice, you would think he just planned the next D-Day invasion rather than a raid on a shitty building made out of mud.

“Second Squad, suit up,” Ginger said, meaning the Hooligans. Of the two squads in our platoon, we both had our strengths and weaknesses. First Squad was good at contacting the locals, meeting elders, and carrying out rebuilding projects. Second Squad—the Hooligans—on the other hand, excelled at good old-fashioned  violence, and that mission was right up our alley.

Codename Cobra was a guy named Mohamed Omar, the Taliban warlord in charge of building and planting roadside bombs in the entire province of Kandahar. He was also the third most wanted man in all of Regional Command South. To say that was a pretty big deal was a huge understatement. And as it turned out, the third most wanted man in the south of Afghanistan had been living a few doors down from us ever since we’d moved into the Reserve.

Second Squad was lined up at the gates of the Reserve. We were all nervous as hell. The third most wanted man would have legions of bodyguards and, obviously, wouldn’t go down without a fight. We were all loaded down with more ammo than normal, including hand grenades and a few rocket launchers. First Squad’s convoy roared out through the gates toward the target compound. A few minutes later, we rushed through the gates after them on foot.

We ran down the road. Normally, running a few hundred meters wouldn’t be a chore at all, but weighed down with about sixty pounds of gear strapped all over our bodies, it became a Herculean task.

We met a soldier along the way who looked as if he was holding a small satellite in his hand. He was apparently looking for Omar’s cell phone signal. Meaning Scream really had no damn clue where he was sending us.

The satellite guy had ridden into the village in one of First Squad’s trucks and stopped them when he got a hit on his satellite, but couldn’t pinpoint it to a single compound.

So two squads of soldiers sent into a village known to be harboring the third most wanted man in Kandahar just sat there like idiots. By then there was no doubt lookouts and gunmen were moving into position as we tried to figure out where the fuck we were supposed to be going. Any hint of surprise we’d had was totally and completely gone.

“What the fuck do you want us to do? Just start kicking in doors?” Slim yelled at the satellite guy.

First Squad was trying desperately to keep an eye on all the compounds around us from the turrets of their vehicles, but it was impossible. The satellite guy started making his way up a hill toward a massive complex that was elaborately decorated with flags and multicolored lights.

A Toyota Corolla screamed up to the compound’s front door blaring its horn. The satellite guy looked back at us.

“That’s the compound!” he yelled. We all realized that the Corolla was there to whisk Omar away.

Slim turned to Second Squad and pointed at the building on the hill. “Let’s go, boys!” he cried.

We rushed up the hill. Alpha Team went around to the right side of the compound. Bravo Team went to the left, leaving my team to go straight through the front door. For some reason that was a detail we hadn’t gone over beforehand.

As we neared, Slim broke out the Corolla’s driver side window, shoving the barrel of his rifle in the driver’s face.

I sprinted toward the front door with Dirty at my heels carrying the massive M240B machine gun across his small frame. Urkel brought up the rear as Dirty’s assistant machine gunner.

I broke through the flimsy wooden door and it shattered to pieces. I lifted my rifle and immediately went to the left following along the inner compound wall. Dirty and Urkel went to the right.

My team had the entire compound covered in a few seconds.

Instead of going toe-to-toe with a legion of terrorist bodyguards, we found ourselves crashing what looked like some kind of garden tea party.

About twelve people, including women and children, were sitting around on blankets. Between them was a massive spread of bread and tea. They were laughing and joking as we burst through the door. Now it looked like they were just trying to figure out what the fuck we were doing there.

Our interpreter, Hamid, was quickly in the door behind us and screaming at them in Pashto. I had no idea what he was saying, but the people in the courtyard stayed frozen in place. I slowly advanced on the men of the group and began searching them.

“Slim, the compound’s secure. Get in here,” I said over my radio. A few seconds later Slim, Oldies, and Memphis came rushing into the compound.

“Start doing biometrics on all these assholes,” Slim commanded.

I fished around in the backpack Urkel was carrying and pulled out our biometric machine.

Biometrics are identifying marks every person has. We take fingerprints, iris scans, and facial measurements. The U.S. military has been keeping a database on the most wanted Taliban fighters for years using pictures or partial fingerprints left on bomb fragments. Using our little machine, I could take someone’s fingerprints or a picture and know within a few seconds who they were and if they were a wanted person.

The first man I stood up and put against the wall gave me his hands without any questions. He had a little smirk on his face and made direct eye contact. I started scanning his first finger when the screen on my machine popped up a red warning.

It read: Muhammad Omar: Tier-Two Wanted. Now, this might get some people excited right away, but our machine was pretty damn unreliable. Normally you had to scan all ten fingers and one iris before you could get a reading that was at all believable. There was a very good chance this guy in front of me was innocent.

“Are you Mohammed Omar?” I asked, laughing. I did not expect a known Taliban commander would admit to an American soldier’s face who he was.

“Yes, I am,” he answered in slightly accented, but very good English.

I stared at him wide-eyed.

Omar smiled at me.

“The Taliban commander?” I asked.

“Yes, that is me,” he answered again. He was still smiling. His black-toothed grin disgusted me. I still held his hand to my machine. Those gnarled hands had built countless bombs that had killed many American soldiers over the years.

“You know I’m taking you away, right?” I matched his eye contact as I said it. I could feel the hatred in his gaze, and I hoped he could feel the same in mine.

“No, you’re not,” he said slowly, still smiling. I had no idea what he meant. Clearly, he wasn’t going to escape from us. He was unarmed and surrounded by over thirty soldiers. What the hell was he going to do?

The answer came in the form of an Afghan National Police patrol walking in through the compound door. At its head was Colonel Ashraf, the incredibly corrupt district commander of district six of Kandahar. He was well known to have Taliban ties. Many people accused him of setting up U.S. soldiers and sometimes his own police to get ambushed by Taliban in exchange for money.

Ashraf started yelling at Hamid as his police started spreading out through the compound.

“He says he will take this Taliban into his custody,” Hamid stuttered.

That was what Omar meant. He knew if we ever hit his house, the police would come to his rescue under the guise of taking him into their custody.

“Tell him to fuck off,” Slim said. “He’s ours.” Slim hated Ashraf. Every time we had a meeting with him, it always ended in the two of them screaming at each other.

“He says Scream told him they would be allowed to take them to their police station,” Hamid said with a smile. Hamid knew Ashraf was lying through his teeth. At this point, I was starting to wonder where the hell Scream was. He never missed a chance to steal someone else’s glory.

“Goddammit! You mother fuckers need to turn around and get me!” my radio shouted into the air. It was Scream, and it turned out First Squad had left him back at the Reserve. To be fair, he never said where he fitted into this whole operation, but leaving your area commander behind on a mission was probably a bad idea.

“Scream, this is Slim. Ashraf is saying he has the authorization to take Omar into custody. Is this legit?” Slim asked over his radio. I could only imagine Scream was tearing our little operations room apart in anger for being left behind on a mission that had captured the third most wanted man in Kandahar.

“Negative!” Scream roared in response. “Detain Codename Cobra immediately!” The emphasis he put on “Codename Cobra” was hilarious. He was apparently pissed we were using Omar’s name over the radio.

We quickly surrounded Omar, who at this point was sitting back down in the compound’s garden having tea with Ashraf. We forced Omar to his feet and placed plastic zip cuffs around his wrists. I made sure to make them painfully tight.

Ashraf quickly got to his feet and started screaming at Hamid.

“He says you can’t take him,” Hamid translated. Hamid scowled at Ashraf, totally sick of the back and forth.

“Tell Ashraf I told him to go fuck himself,” Slim growled. Slim said stuff like that all the time. Hamid was experienced enough to know not to actually tell the Afghans what he said.

Hamid had been an interpreter since he was eighteen, or at least that’s what he told people. Most Afghans don’t actually know how old they are. Over the years, he had been blown up, shot at, and wounded by the Taliban. He hated them more than we did.

“Hamid, tell him I told him to go fuck himself,” Slim reiterated. He wasn’t kidding this time. Slim was giving up on the relationship we were supposed to have with the local Afghan police and torching the bridge behind him.

Hamid translated to Ashraf and laughed, his shotgun held over his shoulder like some kind of Afghan action hero. Slim grabbed Omar by the collar and started dragging him out of the compound. Surprisingly, Ashraf didn’t try to stop us.

Slim and I lifted Omar up and tossed him into the backseat of one of First Squad’s trucks. We buckled him in and wrapped his face in a t-shirt. I slammed the door behind us.

“Second Squad, let’s go home!” Slim called over the radio. We filed out of the compound and started marching back down the road toward the Reserve. First Squad’s trucks gunned it toward Dealer Base, holding our prize and leaving a trail of dust in their wake. We walked back holding our heads a little higher that day.

I felt as if I’d really done something to support the war effort. We captured a goddamn Taliban warlord!

Of course, that ended up being a total lie. The Taliban aren’t a set of dominoes. You can’t just knock one of them down and expect the rest to go down with them. It turned out they simply replaced the guy we arrested less than a day later, never missing a step in their operations in our area. But for that brief moment, we stuck it to our enemy, and it felt good.

We walked back to the gates of the Reserve like conquering war heroes. Even if it was only just for that day.