Mid September, Salisbury
The headquarters building of the Rhodesian Security Force was a long, low, two storey structure made of reinforced concrete covered over with brown stucco and crowned with a collection of tribal "beehive" style rooves. Tucked back into the forest outside of Salisbury it served as the nerve centre for the RSF as well as the base for all Rhodesian artillery, engineer, and armoured car units.
On the west end, overlooking a fast moving creek and shaded heavily with massive Croton trees, was an open-to-air conference room, all of the windows removable and replaced with screens during the warmer months. A tray of glasses and a silver jug of water, moisture beading its sides, sat in the middle of a large wooden table carved from a single tree. Twenty tall backed, yet comfortable looking chairs, were set around the table but today only four of them were occupied.
At the head of the table sat General Thomas Bennet, the head of Rhodesia's security forces. To his right sat Byron Starr, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and President Patrick Chapell. To his left, back to the view, was General John Clarkson, Head of Military Intelligence. The tabletop in front of him was covered in various files showing pictures, written reports, and columns of numbers. Each other man had a smaller folder in front of him, open to the pages being discussed.
"Generally put, gentlemen, Africa is a bloody shit show right now." He was gesturing to a photo of bodies tumbled into an open grave. "The Spanish aren't even bothering to try and hide the bodies in Algeria. Ten of thousands dead. They even deployed gas against civilians."
The others nodded. All of them had seen the photos appearing around the world of the massacres in Algeria perpetrated by Spanish troops. There was plenty of ire and indignation but there wasn't a single power out there who wanted to go toe to toe with the Spanish right now. Rhodesia had been watching to see what sort of counter-insurgency measures the Spanish might have but it seemed the Spanish solved that problem by killing literally everyone they could find. Effective, immorale perhaps, and not at all a good idea for the Rhodesians.
"Closer to home we have good news, and bad news," Clarkson continued. "The insurgency in our area has taken a real hit since we drove the last of the terrorists back into Zambia. The disappearance of Andrew Walls has helped as well..."
He grit his teeth as he said the words. The entire Rhodesian security apparatus was still looking for the damn man but he had vanished like a ghost. The last confirmed sighting of him had been at the cave in the Highlands but the agent they had on the inside did not know where he had gone. It was infuriating. Clarkson had at least managed to have the mans assets frozen overseas and gotten the American FBI to agree to keep an eye out for Walls should he try to return to America.
"Having command of the skies has been the real saving grace. The communists did get their hands on a couple of locally made bi-planes that they used to run messages and drop guns over the border. The RhAF caught them last week and shot them down. Both pilots jumped and fell without parachutes."
"Any word on the terrorists who blew up the bus downtown?" Chappell asked, breaking in on the conversation.
"Yes. I had a phone conversation with Don Prescott his morning by phone, he is currently down along the South African border. It seems some of the local police down there got a tip that two men had been building "road blasting devices" in their cow shed. One of the neighbours heard of the bombing and thought it was weird they were building those sort of things in a barn so he told his priest, who told his wife, who talked to the wife of a police officer."
"Community policing at its finest." Said Starr and a ripple of laughter went around the table.
"Unfortunately," Clarkson continued after a long drink of water. "It seems they were receiving direction from someone else. So we've got the bombers, the bombs, some extra material, but we don't know who was running them. Prescott assured me that he and the RSB are on it."
"That's something at least." Chappell said and leaned back in his chair. The bombings had been a real scare in the capital and he had been doing everything in his power to spin the story as an attack on Rhodesians, regardless of colour, and their way of life. It had targeted a bus mostly frequented by whites but a number of blacks, including several children, had also been on board at the time of the explosion. It was to bad for them, but for him it had been a PR win.
"That's the end of the good news." Clarkson finished as he turned over the next page in his report. Behind him a pair of bright green hummingbirds went hurtling past chirping loudly, breaking in on the solemn little group.
"Well fuck..." Chappell muttered as he lifted the corner of his file to see how many pages remained. "I thought that was the bad news. Just can't catch a break can we?"
"Well on the bright side, most of the bad news doesn't involve us, yet." Clarkson had flipped his page and the other men followed suit. The South African flag featured in the top corner and the very first picture showed white police officers firing into a crowd of striking black miners.
"Our neighbours to the south making great choices, once again." Starr muttered angrily under his breath. For months he had been working with his South African compatriot, trying to make the man understand that if they kept treating the blacks as little better than slaves it was only a matter of time before you had a race war on your hands. You didn't need a doctorate in history to see how that was going to end.
"That's right, Minister. The latest riots ended only after the police opened fire on the crowd. It's led to more attacks on whites out and about alone, not to mention another terrorist bombing in Joeburg. We're doing all we can at the border to prevent the radicals from moving north. Thankfully, our policy of carrot and stick, rather than just stick, has most concerned parties willing to turn over trouble makers in return for cold hard cash."
"We've detained 23 this month alone trying to cross the border," Bennet took up the narrative. All things in relation to the security of the country, including the police, fell under his command. "Some were nobodies and a vengeful someone just wanted to make their lives hell and make some money off of us. Six of them however are what we could plainly call "bad-dudes". Since they're not Rhodesians, we turned them back over to the SA Secret Police and I doubt we'll see them again anytime soon."
Nods went around the table. The one thing the two white states had in common was their ability to make people "disappear". Rhodesia tended to be quite conservative when it came to "ghosting" its own citizens but had no qualms about getting rid of someone elses.
"The situation seems as volatile as ever, though there has been a drop in refugees coming from SA. I think their own military has something to do with that. They've been concerned about "brain drain" up our way as anyone with the means to apply to our refugee program has been doing so whenever they can."
"Okay, well keep me in the loop then. We're still in talks to buy the Kruger National Park off of them. They're strapped for cash and getting desperate." Starr interjected and scribbled some notes on the paper in front of him.
"Can do." Bennet responded, making some notes of his own.
"Now, the real gong show." Clarkson had flipped through the pages covering South Africa and stopped with half the file still unexplored. "Ethiopia."
"If ever there was a cluster fuck in Africa..." Bennet breathed out a sigh of exasperation.
"And that, my friends, is saying something." Clarkson responded as he leaned back in his chair and looked up at the exposed wooden beams that rose above his head. This was one he had been reviewing most of all recently since the destabilization of the Empire would affect them all.
"The crux of the situation is a civil war, and the Imperial family is not winning it right now. They've got various forces tearing them apart all over the place and an ineffective leader in that Sahle character. He's more interested in chasing girls than running an Empire. I'm not sure either way if his number one guy, Desta Getachew, is a snake trying to get rich, or a snake trying to take down the Emperor. We've had an agent watching him for some time now but I wouldn't be happy putting money on either side of that bet right now."
"The rest of the Imperial family is not in a better state at all. Yaqob, the younger brother, is in China getting his head filled with Communist nonsense I am sure. If something were to even to happen to Sahle, it would probably be in our best interest to try and ensure Yaqob never returns home at all." He didn't elaborate but everyone at the table knew what he meant.
"The sister, Taytu, was last seen in Spain but god knows where she went. The current police state over there is making it hella difficult for our agents to operate at all. One was arrested last week and we only managed to secure his release after a personal phone call from me. That was an interesting conversation to be sure."
"Of all the threats currently facing the Imperial government up there, Ras Hassan is possible the most dangerous. He's smart, tactically clever, and very motivated. I think things are heating up with him and I wouldn't be surprised to see him lay a kicking on the Imperial forces soon."
"That brings us to a question, do we offer to help the Ethiopians?"
No one asked "why". They all knew that if Ethiopia collapsed, Rhodesia would be quite alone in Eastern Africa. It was a stretch to call Ethiopia and Rhodesia "friends", but they were certainly the most stable countries in Africa. Or they had been. It was strange to think of Rhodesia as an island of calm on a continent gone mad.
"General, have we got any resources we could spare?" Chappell glanced at Bennet who didn't have to look at his notes to know the answer.
"Artillery and aircraft only. Our ground forces are fully engaged in hunting what remains of the Communists through the mountains. We're still using a few helicopters for insertion jobs but the majority of our aircraft are resting and repairing. The artillery has been training with their new 155mm howitzers and would love to try them out. They missed out on the brush war due to lack of roads." He paused and then shook his head slightly as if to clear it. "Any units we deploy will require our own troops to protect them as well. So we would have to deploy some troops there."
"The Navy is also still available and chomping at the bit to do something. We don't have any big ships like the Ethiopians but our fast destroyers are good for close in supporting fire and coastal bombardment."
"So, in effect, we would provide a small expeditionary force in support of artillery and aircraft?" Starr asked, writing down a few more notes. "And some Naval assets if needed?"
"Any of the Selous Scouts available?" Starr asked with a glance at Bennet, who shook his head.
"Negative. They're operating abroad at the moment." That was polite speak for "killing people in other countries". The Selous Scouts often jumped over the border into Ostafrika, Zambia, and even South Africa, to hit at terrorist camps.
"Great, thank you. The next time I speak with their ambassador I will hint at help being there if they need it."
"That works." Bennet said with a nod. "What's next?"
"The Congo I reckon." Clarkson said with a resigned sigh. "Onward and upward."