Caspian Sea Coast
"This is Dagger One to Papa Dragon", Captain Timothy Walsh reported. "We are overlooking the harbour facilities and are standing by to observe."
"Understood, Dagger", Colonel Francis Thorn confirmed from his flying command centre inside a modified AC-130 gunship that was idling above the Caspian Sea just outside Iranian airspace. Unfazed by the air of tension in the cramped, blue-lit belly of the massive aircraft, Thorn took a quick sip from his coffee mug while his watchful gaze rested on the screens that showed a livefeed of the compound. Thanks to the high-resolution cameras mounted on their helmets, the Chessmaster could see everything his men could set their eyes on in real time as if he was there himself.
The five soldiers of Team Dagger belonged to the US Army's 1st Special Forces Group and had infiltrated the area a month earlier. True to the doctrine of the famous Green Berets, America's original shadow warriors founded in the early 1950s, they had taken the subtle way into Iran: Using their vast knowledge of the local languages and customs, they managed to blend in among the population and prepared a safehouse in support of tonight's operation. The objective was a cargo freighter that was scheduled to arrive within the hour. According to the latest intel of the CIA, it carried an arsenal of advanced weapons from the Russian Federation. For decades, it had been an open secret that the long-ruling ex-KGB Colonel in the Kremlin supported the Iranian regime with weapons in the same way as the United States supported the Saudi regime. The appearance of the Global Liberation Army and the subsequent escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq had brought the tensions between the two Middle Eastern powers to an unprecedented level - and in the autumn of 2024, it was only be a matter of time until the American-backed regime in Baghdad would fall and the entire region would be plunged into a catastrophic war that had been in the making for so long.
"Heads up, we've got eyes on a vessel heading towards the harbour", Captain Walsh noted after a half hour of quiet waiting. "Stephenson; can you get a clear look at the ship?"
The team's sniper peered through the night vision scope of his M110 precision rifle and scanned the ship's hull. He confirmed that it was indeed the Danica, a cargo freighter under the Russian flag with a deadweight tonnage of 50.000.
"Roger, Dagger. Set up your equipment and ID any personnel within the facility. I also need a clear view on those weapons if possible", Thorn replied. "Intel says that the Russian officer in charge of the delivery is one Major General Stanislav Semyonovich Baluyev and that the ship might be carrying an unknown number of surplus anti-aircraft vehicles, including ZSU-23-4 Shilkas and SA-19 Grisons. We're also looking at several hundred containers full of ammunition and miscellaneous infantry weapons, possibly including advanced MANPADS and ATGMs."
"Any changes to the rules of engagement?", Walsh inquired.
"Negative. We are only here to identify the weapons and any key personnel. We don't have orders to engage at this time, so keep your safeties on."
Slowly, the Danica moved ashore and within moments, the sleepy harbour facility came alive with activity as several armed soldiers scrambled out of the buildings in the dead of the night.
"Wait, something isn't right here", the Captain remarked. "These troops aren't wearing Iranian uniforms. Papa Dragon, what do we know about the Iranian military presence down here tonight?"
"We have no exact information as to who's going to receive the delivery, whether they belong to the regular military or the revolutionary guard." Thorn replied with an air of concern. "Whoever they are, let's stick to the plan for now. I'll see if I can get some better intel from our database..."
"Roger that, Colonel", Walsh noted. "Ramirez; set up the smartcam and the directional mic!"
While the Green Berets prepared their equipment, the Russian General Baluyev took a strong drag of his cigarette and exited the ship. An instant after he stepped onto the concrete pier, he and his small entourage of soldiers and sailors were confronted by a group of bearded men dressed in a patchy mix of civilian clothes and non-standard military gear. One of them, a lean, towering Iraqi with the biggest beard of all approached him: "You are ten minutes late. Unpunctuality is not a good trait for a man to do business with - But I shall look past that, given the sheer size of your delivery, 'Comrade' General."
"And I shall look past your arrogance, mudak", the General replied with contempt as he crushed the remains of the cigarette underneath his black boot. "The President may regard your organisation as...'helpful' for his political power plays in the Middle East but that does not mean that we have to treat you as if we were friends - Trust me, we aren't! The mere thought that my government is making agreements with your kind fills me with shame and disgust, but I have my orders. Let's just get this over with."
Meanwhile, Colonel Thorn had received the results of the facial recognition procedure which revealed the identity of the bearded stranger. "Well, I'll be damned - If that isn't the fucking Death Merchant himself", he hissed through his teeth. "Dagger, be advised: We have identified the tall guy as none other than Anwar Sulaymaan, one of the GLA's top dogs in the Gulf region. He fought in the Iraqi insurgency as a teenager and ever since then, he has built himself an impressive network of arms trafficking contacts around the world. We're talking rogue states, mercenaries, criminals and terrorists but above all of these, his main client has always been the Global Liberation Army, where he is said to be in close personal contact with Warlord Mohmar himself."
"Come again, Sir, does that mean...", Captain Walsh wondered in disbelief before Thorn cut him off: "Yes, Captain. It means that for all we know, the Russian government is covertly supplying the GLA. We believed that this was going to be just another routine delivery for the Iranians, but if the Russians are also backing the GLA as some some kind of secret proxy in the Middle East to compromise our interests, we might have a major international incident on our hands. I have to take this higher up the chain. Stand by for further orders, Dagger."
The GLA workers started lifting the containers off the ship with cranes and loaded them onto a nearby train. It would still take a considerable while to unload the entire cargo, but the Americans did not have any time to spare, knowing that the precious cargo would quickly become untraceable amidst the extensive, impenetrable logistics network of the GLA. Meanwhile, Sulaymaan and Baluyev took a walk through the harbour and stopped by one of the larger containers. Upon orders of Sulaymaan, the massive steel crate was opened, revealing an entire load of S-300 surface-to-air missiles; sophisticated material which, without a doubt, would pose a potent threat to American air operations in the region.
"Dagger One, this is Papa Dragon", Thorn returned and proceeded to explain in an urgent tone. "New orders just came in from the highest authority: We are to engage and destroy the ship, its cargo and all personnel. That includes both the GLA -and- the Russians. We don't have time for a more nuanced solution as we cannot risk losing track of these weapons. My Spectre will be on station to provide fire support in approximately twenty minutes. We light 'em up and then your team will go in to secure what's left. Let's get to it, gentlemen!"
While the Green Berets prepared to make their move, Sulaymaan and Baluyev continued with their awkward conversation, unaware of the havoc that would soon be unleashed upon them. "These weapons will aid us greatly in our upcoming operations in Iraq", boasted Sulaymaan. "My people are yearning to be liberated from the puppet regime that was forced upon them by the Americans. Soon, the entire region will be purged clean from the influence of the Western imperialists and then, we will lay waste to their homes just like they did to ours for so many years. Relay my thanks to your President...and tell him that the GLA will always remember its benefactors."
Baluyev spat out in disgust and refused to dignify Sulaymaan's unbearable smugness with a response. Suddenly, the two were knocked to the ground by a heavy explosion. A 105mm howitzer shell had smashed into the conning tower of the Danica and before anybody knew what was going on, the men on the pier got cut down by a red, uninterrupted beam of 25mm rounds. A barrage of bombs, missiles and 40mm high-explosive shells rained down from the dark blue night sky and obliterated most of the harbour within mere seconds in a chain reaction of detonations.
"A trap - I should have known it!" Sulaymaan yelled while seething with rage. "You're going to die for this, you slavic pig!" Baluyev, who was still shaken by the chaos, tried to seize the opportunity to save his honour and reached for his pistol, only for Sulaymaan to pull a blade through his throat. "The GLA will always remember its benefactors...", he repeated darkly. "...but it will never forget those who betrayed it either!" With that said, he threw the General to the ground and left him to bleed out. As he made his escape from the facility, Sulaymaan manoeuvred through the raging inferno which rendered him invisible on the infrared screens of the Spectre before he disappeared into the night.
After the bombardment had ended, Team Dagger arrived on the scene to secure what little salvageable intel was left. Captain Walsh reported back to Colonel Thorn: "Papa Dragon, we've got a total of fifty-eight bodies including General Baluyev but Sulaymaan is nowhere to be found. The Danica has been sunk and the containers they managed to unload are destroyed - These SAMs won't bother our birds anytime soon."
"Understood, Dagger. We might have missed the prize but we still managed to deny the GLA some serious firepower tonight", Thorn summarised. "Prep your boat and exfil to point Echo before the locals show up. A Black Hawk will be on station to fly you out to Turkmenistan...I'll brief the President on the geo-political shitstorm that's gonna come down in the next hours. Papa Dragon out."
Introduced in the early 1960s, the ZSU-23-4 (named after its armament of four 23mm anti-aircraft cannons and more commonly known as the Shilka) has been refurbished in a last ditch effort to maximise the combat capabilities of Russia's Tank Reserves alongside the T-64 and the BRDM-1.
Introduced in the 1980s in order to replace the relatively unsophisticated Shilka, the Tunguska was originally armed with a set of two 30mm autocannons and four surface-to-air missiles. A new version of the vehicle was adopted during the modernisation of Russia's military arsenal in the 2030s: The Tunguska-M2 essentially combined the sturdy tracked chassis of the original model with the more advanced weapon platform and targeting systems of the lighter Pantsir-S1 vehicle, making it one of the most reliable self-propelled anti-aircraft weapons in the world.
Where most countries comprise their militaries of an army, a navy and an air force, the official armed forces of the Russian Federation operate within six distinct branches: The Ground Forces, the Navy, the Air Force, the Airborne Troops, the Strategic Missile Troops and - last but not least - the Aerospace Defence Forces. Being tasked to protect the single largest national airspace on the globe, the members of the VKO are in charge of Russia's elaborate network of early warning radars and advanced surface-to-air weapon systems, the most prominent of which is the S-300 missile. Originally dubbed the 'Grumble' by NATO, the missiles can turn a large air space into a no-fly zone thanks to their amazing range and inescapable accuracy. Ever since its introduction in the late 1970s, the missile has been improved and modernised time and time again, giving birth to an entire family of SAMs which were exported to the likes of Kazakhstan, Belarus and Greece. During the Global War On Terror, some of these missiles almost wound up in the hands of the GLA if it had not been for the intervention of American special forces. The infamous Sulaymaan-Baluyev Affair of 2024 further eroded the trust between the Russian people and their dictatorial government in a series of events that eventually gave rise to a new President by the name of Nikolai Abramovich Suvorov.
Finally, we are proud to announce that Rise of the Reds will be featured on this month's episode of Community Battlecast Primetime, including an interview with The Hunter and Comr4de, exclusive previews and new information from behind the scenes!