GRADUATING FROM UNIVERSITY found the Triumvirate pulled in different directions personally, professionally and geographically.
Shyloh traveled to Europe to write an article on the rise of nationalism for The Guardian. The year-long investigation, and the subsequent series of articles garnered him international acclaim.
Shyloh only took assignments if they coincided with his interests. His style of reportage, considered new journalism, used literary techniques that made his stories poignant, popular and persuasive. For that reason as well as being one of the few freelancers prepared to visit the most dangerous places on the planet, his editors accommodated him.
He’d reported on the caravans of Latin American migrants arriving at the U.S. border and then went to where they originated and wrote a series on gangs like M-13, the de facto rulers of Honduras. He traveled to the Philippines to cover president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs to see if allegations the national police had committed an estimated twelve thousand extrajudicial killings were true.
He went to Mali because the country was located in the Sahel region of the continent, a transitional zone between the arid Sahara to the north and the belt of humid savannas to the south, one of the front lines of climate change and that was stressing civilization.
There he met with Judith who was in command of the Canadian Armed Forces contingent sent there under the auspices of the United Nations. The purpose was to establish conditions for durable peace, development, and prosperity in this war ravaged, impoverished country. The mission had been extended twice. There was less peace, development and prosperity now than before the UN had arrived.
“Put this on.” Judith handed Shyloh a flak vest.
“A medical evacuation. United Nations troops were attacked while investigating a massacre in a village in the Mopti region three hundred kilometres north of Gao. We’re providing cover for the Chinook.”
“Not our problem.”
He was an observer on board one of the two Griffin helicopters that would provide protection for the larger Chinook. The airships lifted off in a cloud of red dust.
They flew low and fast over the flat, desert landscape. The only defining features they came across were three charred village sites, now shards of broken pottery strewn among ashes.
A pall of smoke on the horizon was the first sign they were approaching their destination. “We’ll approach, do a couple of orbits to check out the situation on the ground,” Judith said. “Once we think the area is secure, the Chinook will come in.”
As they approached the village, Shyloh could see five dwellings still burning and several more that were smoldering ruins with only their mud walls standing. In the square were a jumble of corpses. At the entrance to village was a mangled armoured personnel carrier. The backup APC was parked beside a dwelling nearby.
“What happened?” Shyloh snapped images with his Canon 6D.
“Hit an IED. Four casualties.” Judith barked orders into her headset. “The Chinook’s going in.”
As soon as the big helicopter set down eight medics were out the rear door and running to the dwelling.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” Judith scanned the surrounding countryside.
“Where are the villagers?”
“Hiding, dead, ran away.”
The medics emerged carrying four stretchers and headed for the Chinook. Two Guinean UN soldiers got in the undamaged APC and drove out to the main road.
“That gully at three o’clock,” Judith said to the door gunner. “Rake it.”
The M134 Minigun opened fire. Six thousand rounds a minute churned the sand and sent up a cloud of dust and debris that included bits of clothing and body parts.
“Sneaky bastards,” Judith said
“How do you know they were combatants?” Shyloh said. “They might have been villagers hiding?”
“Or maybe not. Out here we err on the side of safety, our safety.”
The Chinook lifted off, followed by the other Griffin.
“We’re going to give these guys in the APC some cover until their back at their base,” Judith said.
As they circled the village more dead bodies of men, women and children came into view.
“There are your villagers. Shot down running for their lives.”
Once back at the base, Shyloh met with Judith in the canteen.
“How are the soldiers you evacuated?”
“One dead. The others should be okay.” Judith took a long drink of a cold beer.
“Are we doing any good here? I mean is the mission achieving its goals?” Shyloh said.
“That was a Fulani village, they’re herders. That was a revenge attack by Dogans, they’re farmers. The two groups have been competing for land and water for centuries but with climate change it’s got a lot worse.
“In the east, Fulani herders compete with Tuareg herders and the result is the same. Now throw in jihadists, warlords, a weak and corrupt central government and you get an idea of the situation.”
“What about the French forces?”
“They came here to prevent another caliphate like the one ISIS declared back in 2014, with all the subsequent ramifications.”
Shyloh remembered how some had found the lure of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria irresistible. They came from all over the world inspired by the call to purge a defiled Islam of apostasy. A few had returned to their homelands to carry out terrorist attacks and others were influence to do the same by watching the propaganda on internet.
“So what happens when the UN withdraws?” Shyloh said.
“Who knows, who cares.”
“What’s the solution, Judith?”
“Reinforce border security.”
“Who’ll take on that job in Mali?”
“Not here,” Judith said. “Back home.”
Shyloh understood. Though it may not be the official position, as far a Judith was concerned the reason she was here was to prevent or at least mitigate the impact this maelstrom of humanity would have when it eventually arrived at the borders of their country.
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