CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

time, the UN was trying to keep up with the spreading chaos by inserting

peacekeepers and taking steps to ensure the delivery of humanitarian

relief as the dreaded Russian winter loomed near.

In Washington, the President had agreed to honor the UN Secretary

General’s request and ordered MEU-25 and CBG-14 into the Black Sea, once

it became certain that Turkey was not going to permit foreign military

forces to be based on their soil.

On paper, Operation Sustain Hope seemed no more outlandish a proposal

than had Operation Restore Hope, the abortive and expensive Marine

operation–again at the UN’s behest–in Somalia in 1992 to 1994. The

National Command Authority had been specific in its directive: Under no

circumstances would U.S. involve themselves in the fighting between the

Red and Blue Russian factions. The Marines would go ashore at Poti only

after a UN Crisis Assessment Team could demonstrate that both the Reds

and the Blues were out of the picture in Georgia, leaving the way clear

for the Georgian Freedom Party to cooperate with the UN mission. If and

when the CAT gave the go-ahead, Marines would start going ashore,

securing port and airfield facilities in and around Poti so that relief

supplies could begin arriving by ship and plane.

Meanwhile, the Jefferson battle group’s aircraft would impose a

UN-dictated no-fly zone over western Georgia. By stopping all air

traffic within a triangle marked out by the cities of Batumi and Sukhumi

on the coast, and Kutasisi, about fifty miles inland from Poti, a

fragile peace might be eked out among the warring tribes and factions;

if it worked in western Georgia, the UN sanctions would be extended,

taking in all of Georgia and the neighboring states of Armenia and

Azerbaijan as well. That region was still a running sore in this part of

the world, and a successfully enforced UN-mandated peace there would go

a long way toward legitimizing the notion of a United Nations with


The UN also hoped to use a strong military presence to defuse other

problems in the area as well. Turkey had threatened more than once to

invade former Soviet Armenia in order to quell the restlessness of its

own Armenian population and the threat of a single Armenian state carved

from both sides of the border; Iran, too, was a regional wild card, with

troops poised on the Iranian-Azerbaijani border threatening to intervene

in that country as well.

It was enough to give anyone one hell of a headache.

“Have there been any threats to Twenty-five?” Tombstone asked Penhall.

“No direct threats,” the lieutenant replied. “A number of radar sites

all along the coast have been keeping tabs on them, of course, but no

weapons radar signatures, and nothing that could be interpreted as a

hostile move. Yet.”

That final word was offered as an afterthought, and Tombstone nodded

understanding. No one in this part of the world really wanted them here

in these waters, and all parties concerned would be very glad to see the

Americans leave.

And that goes for me, too, Tombstone thought. He pointed to a cluster of

yellow symbols over the Black Sea, south of Kerch and the straits

leading to the Sea of Azov. “And who are those guys?”

“They’ve been IDED as another military flight out of Krasnodar,” Penhall

said. “Reinforcements for Sevastopol, I expect.”

“I think,” Tombstone said slowly, “that the Crimea is going to sink if

they pile anything more in there.”

Penhall smiled. “What was it the Russian general said about Stalingrad,

sir, back in World War II? That it was one big prison camp?”

“I’m not sure the Russians said that,” Tombstone replied, “but I take

your point.”

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine was what made the American

incursion into the Black Sea particularly dangerous. More so than even

the civil war between Blues and Reds, the Russo-Ukrainian War carried

with it the seeds of a general conflict throughout this part of the

world, one that might well spill over into both Europe and the Middle


It had, in fact, all of the makings of a new world war.

“Top Hat, Top Hat,” a radio voice called from a nearby speaker, carrying

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