[Note - This blog post was migrated from our previous website. Originally posted April 13, 2017]
Verdant Star was a Blackline military simulation conducted between 07APR17, and 08APR17. It consisted of 23 personnel based at the Picton Airfield that were assigned the task of locating, monitoring, capturing, and extracting the 2IC from a team participating in the OPR8-hosted airsoft event Kingfisher Prime taking place at the Prince Edward Recreational Zone (PRZ) paintball field.
Mission Background and Workup
Command identified a subject that had access to critical enemy operations intelligence. The target was both high risk and resistant towards standard ELINT procedures. As such, the subject was tagged for capture and interrogation, and assigned the callsign LITHIUM. Operations personnel were drawn from units across Ontario and Quebec to stand up Task Force VERDANT STAR.
The subject was expected to be present in the AO between 07APR17 to 09APR17 in order to take part in combat operations against friendly forces. This offered the task force the best intelligence on his confirmed location. Initial planning and information collection began approximately three weeks prior to those dates. High level concepts were discussed in two sessions conducted in March while other assets went to work identifying known associates and gleaning information from open source intelligence.
[Task Force Verdant Star advanced planning session]
During planning, five mission concepts were developed. The first plan involved the capture of the target during the night of his arrival on site. This was considered the lowest risk option, with the highest opportunity for success as the location would be static and the area around it could be reproduced for training. The timing of the assault would also be at the discretion of the task force. The second option was to attempt a capture during his arrival in daylight hours. While the time would be up to the subject, the task force would be able to control the location. The level of risk increased when considering options of how to stop a vehicle, methods to extract the target from the vehicle, and the response from other individuals. Option three was an offshoot of option two, in that the subject was to be captured during his movement on the field to conduct setup of equipment. This was the last low to mid level risk option available, and would result in limited control of timing or location, but one that could succeed with excellent coordination and rapid deployment.
[Task Force Verdant Star advanced planning session]
Option four was an ad hoc option available to task force elements embedded within friendly forces operating in the AO. If LITHIUM could be located and incapacitated during normal combat operations, the subject would be extracted off site and moved to a secure location. The fifth and least desirable option was available because of the senior role LITHIUM would play during OPFOR combat operations, and because the task force had a general idea of where the OPFOR command post would be located. This option would consist of a decapitating strike on the CP to capture LITHIUM and extract him to a secure location. This final scenario promised casualties on both sides, and had a high risk of failure. The training and logistics demands would also be considerably higher.
However, all of the mission profiles were missing key information required for their success. The subject’s current appearance, mode of transport, location of camp, arrival times, security, and personal weapons were just some of the knowledge that had to be obtained or accounted for. In addition, the task force had to verify infil and exfil routes, rally points, and various intelligence reports on the target structure to prepare for all of the mission concepts. These requirements would become the objectives for various missions leading up to and during the operation.
Prior to deployment, the primary role for all task force members was information collection and pressure testing of the various options. A critical paradigm shift for personnel was to support or reject assumptions with facts. The entire unit was utilized for this purpose, as the various perspectives and insights helped to identify gaps and weaknesses in the plans. A valuable example of this was the assumption that units would be able to pose as authority figures early in the morning as past experience had shown a gap in command and control until later in the day. This assumption, while founded in experience, almost cost the task force its OPSEC as it was discovered that C&C would be on site prior to dawn. As a result, the second plan option had to be completely scrubbed.
Aside from conducting reality checks on planning, the task force personnel engaged in numerous surveillance and OSINT operations in the days leading up to the suspect’s arrival. Teams acted on intelligence and moved to various locations suspected to be connected to the subject or his known affiliates. Intelligence collected from these missions was pulled together and analyzed by the team for patterns. Databases were populated with vehicle information and combatant equipment. Profiles were created for LITHIUM, his associates, and the possible OPFOR elements that may be tasked with his security. Numerous assets were leveraged to fill in the blanks, and all task force members were meticulous in their search for anything that could aid in mission success.
By the end of 06APR17, the task force had positioned itself well enough that units could assemble and begin to execute the first missions for Verdant Star.
Task force members arrived at FOB Picton through the day and established the team room and the ToC. This consisted of a main bunk room with 24 sleeping spaces and a large work space, and an operations centre with a briefing room for the teams. The ToC went to work immediately, establishing their communications and mapping equipment, staffing it to provide support to personnel on site and those still inbound to the FOB.
At 1838h, the ToC comes online with the callsign REACTOR.
[Task Force Verdant Star briefing]
MISSIONS GET UNDERWAY
Shortly after 2000h 07APR17, a two man team with the callsign ISOTOPE is deployed by civilian vehicle to the northeast edge of the AO. They proceeded to move on foot to an area within the PRZ field to gain visual contact with the parking area and access road. The primary objective for ISOTOPE at this time is to determine the presence of LITHIUM, and to communicate a clear layout of the parking lot to REACTOR to aid in planning the night raid option. Additional tasks included monitoring of vehicle and personnel activities, and to verify possible alternate and contingency exfil routes in the event capture teams could not utilize the primary route.
[ISOTOPE reconnaissance team prior to deployment]
ISOTOPE’s intelligence was critical to the night raid plan; however, there was a deadline. Due to the amount of organization and rehearsals required, if LITHIUM arrived after a certain hour it would not allow units the required workup time. REACTOR determined this point to be 2359h, 07APR17. If, at that time, ISOTOPE could not confirm the presence of LITHIUM, the overnight capture option would be scrubbed and teams would default to the third mission option. Over the next few hours, ISOTOPE provided valuable reports on multiple vehicles arriving on site, conversations between participants setting up camp, witnessed individuals chopping down trees for firewood, and movement of personnel around the site. However, LITHIUM remained elusive.
[ISOTOPE radio traffic reporting vehicle positions]
[ISOTOPE reconnaissance information on parking lot and vehicle locations]
During this time, it became clear to REACTOR that plans to deploy a two man team to take over parking lot observation by posing as participants in a vehicle would present too much risk to operational security. The two man close target reconnaissance team CATALYST, was stood down until morning.
Meanwhile, as the abort time for the night mission crept closer, a five man team with the callsign MERCURY came online. MERCURY was to insert by vehicle to the south of the airfield, and begin to verify satellite imagery of the area. A number of possible vehicle routes had been identified that would allow units to exfil to the south of PRZ and rendezvous with extraction vehicles. However, due to heavy rain and older intelligence about the area, a pathfinder unit was required to determine viability of these routes. The objectives for MERCURY were to examine one vehicle route, to establish the coordinates for a southern rally point, and to chart a route to exfil the AO on foot to a road pickup point in the East. Not only would this information be critical to any urgent exfiltration needs, but it would also lay the groundwork for the fifth capture option - an assault on the enemy CP from the South.
[Four of five MERCURY team personnel]
08APR17 2359h came and went. Shortly after midnight, REACTOR contacts ISOTOPE to get a final call on the presence of LITHIUM. ISOTOPE reports it is unlikely that the subject is on site, and REACTOR makes the decision to abort the night mission. With that, units at the FOB are placed on rest until operations resume at 0630h.
[ISOTOPE reports that it is unlikely LITHIUM is on site]
With the night mission aborted, ISOTOPE makes a request to begin movement and complete their secondary objective of confirming northern exfil routes and to create their new hide site overlooking a main surface route. This presented a problem for REACTOR. With CATALYST unable to deploy for OPSEC reasons, the departure of ISOTOPE would leave a substantial gap in parking lot observation. This was further complicated by the need to complete the hide setup by first light, and the estimated four hours it would take to do so. With first light just 5 ½ hours away, ISOTOPE could not be held on station much longer.
Here, MERCURY stepped up to fill the gap. MERCURY proposed dividing their team into two. All personnel would insert together, but after verifying the vehicle route and rally point, a team of two would split off and head North to take up observation on the west side of the target area and relieve ISOTOPE, while the remaining three personnel would finish pathfinding operations. REACTOR approved this change in mission plan. ISOTOPE holds position while MERCURY elements prepare to deploy.
Near 0100h, MERCURY boards the transport vehicle and begins to conduct exit drills. Within a short time frame, the team has reduced their deployment time to just 10 seconds, and REACTOR is satisfied enough to dispatch the unit. At 0112h, MERCURY exits their transport vehicle into the darkness and begins their pathfinding mission.
At the drop point, it is immediately apparent that any vehicle access to the suspected road route will be impossible due to debris and obstacles. Shortly after, MERCURY reports by radio that all surface routes on the satellite imagery are submerged under one to two feet of water. A vehicle exfil route will not be available into the southern AO for the operation, so MERCURY pushes on to establish the southern rally point, and the Eastern foot exfil route.
Along their route, MERCURY encounters a number of obstacles, almost all due to the heavy precipitation and dense foliage. It takes less than 30 minutes of travel for MERCURY to report that their infiltration route is adverse and would not recommend it as an extraction route. With the closure of this route, MERCURY’s reconnaissance becomes critical in finding a suitable route for any southern elements seeking pickup while under pressure to relieve ISOTOPE.
At 0151h, ISOTOPE requests confirmation that they can begin their movement to their hide within the next 10 minutes. MERCURY however, is still struggling through the south. By 0200h, it’s clear that the terrain is causing numerous delays, and that MERCURY won’t be able to split its forces until after 0230h. REACTOR clears ISOTOPE to move to their new hide, creating a gap in parking lot observation as MERCURY fights to make up time.
MERCURY finally manages to find a suitable rally point and calls it in. MERCURY 1-1 breaks North towards their new observation post, while MERCURY 1-2 heads South in search of a suitable exfiltration route.
Back at FOB Picton, the final Verdant Star reconnaissance team is raised. The three man unit, callsign ARGON, has multiple objectives. They are to insert on foot across the airfield into the wood line West of the objective. From there, they would track south, and emerge to the south of what is presumed to be the enemy CP. Their first objective is to conduct a detailed sweep of the CP area and assess the condition of rooms, doors, and windows in order to verify intelligence reports. From here, they would proceed to the actual CP space and determine if it was a viable location. They would update maps with the location of debris and obstacles so assault plans would be made with accurate information. Finally, they would move out of the structures and into the wood line to the South. Here, they would establish observation of the main entry routes and likely vehicle parking areas to support daylight operations and guide any raid on the CP.
[Reconnaissance Team ARGON]
Between 0300h and 0400h, Verdant Star elements grind away across the AO. ARGON steps off at 0304h, crossing the northern side of the airfield and winding their way into the woods. MERCURY 1-1 arrives at their new OP and establishes observation of the lot at 0325h. ISOTOPE finds the only suitable location for their new hide. They report great visibility of the surface route, but suspect that they will be compromised if a large number of enemy units move into the area. Finally, MERCURY 1-2 sends in the last coordinates for a dry and easily passable exfiltration route. They turn towards home, moving on foot back to FOB Picton. The time is 0340. Dawn is approaching, and ARGON must finish the last of the night objectives before sunrise.
[ARGON leaves FOB Picton]
[ARGON moves toward the treeline]
[Southern rally point and exfiltration route discovered on the MERCURY pathfinding mission]
While MERCURY 1-1 passes along the changes in the parking lot to REACTOR, ARGON pushes out of the treeline, and at 0432h, they enter the target structure to conduct their sweep. The situation within the target is grim. With zero ambient light, units are forced to use IR illumination to examine the spaces and search the rooms. Standing water is prevalent and a result of the poor building condition and the heavy precipitation over the past 48 hours. Carefully working through the target, communications become weak and unreadable. ARGON loses voice comms with REACTOR. From accounts of their sweep, they discover no opposing forces, but are able to produce updated maps of the facility, including details regarding the most likely location for a CP. The updated information is passed back to REACTOR via SMS/MMS and makes its way into the planning file for the CP strike option. ARGON reemerges from the buildings at 0442, regains communications, and moves to position themselves for the next phase of operations. At this same time, MERCURY 1-2 returns to the FOB after their long pathfinding mission, and stands down.
[ARGON sweeps structures and likely CP locations]
For the remainder of the night, Verdant Star has eyes on the whole of the facility as the recce teams begin their watches. While the majority of the night is quiet, some unusual vehicle traffic continues through the area. At 0542, ARGON watches a red car stop by the generator buildings in the east of the AO, and attempt to gain access through the door. Failing that, the vehicle drives towards the north where MERCURY 1-1 observes it park for a short time, before exiting the area. Additionally, at 0558h, a white hatchback passes the parking lot, and parks next to the west of the admin buildings; unusual behaviour compared to all other participant vehicles in the AO.
With sunrise only a short time away, it’s time for REACTOR to place the final reconnaissance assets for the daylight grab option. MERCURY 1-1 is likely to be compromised after dawn, and so CATALYST is reactivated. The two man close target reconnaissance team moves to the parking lot by vehicle and arrives at 0600h. By 0623h, CATALYST reports their final position, and a few moments later, MERCURY 1-1 is provided extraction coordinates. They leave their OP and begin their exfil.
As dawn breaks, activity in the AO increases substantially. Reconnaissance teams report a white Kia Forté, a red tractor, and a silver hatchback of unknown make and model moving around the site. ISOTOPE and ARGON expertly hand off observation of the vehicles as they transition in and out of their respective fields of view. Shortly after 0640h, MERCURY 1-1 boards their extraction vehicle and returns to base.
At FOB Picton, the grab teams are organized. CARBON, a two man element, is assigned the responsibility of conducting the actual grab. COBALT, a four man element, is designated as both transport and security team.
The Pieces Come Together
The task force is now positioned for the third mission concept which was planned almost a month ago. CATALYST will trigger the start of the mission by positively confirming the presence of LITHIUM on site, and would transmit a description of the subject to REACTOR. CATALYST would also provide exact coordinates of the subject vehicle which, based on intelligence, was likely to be a white Nissan Rogue. Upon confirmation of LITHIUM, REACTOR would update COBALT and CARBON with the necessary intelligence and the teams would deploy from the FOB to the AO. Posing as regular combatants, they would park their vehicles near the target vehicle. Both the grab and security team had practiced a series of possible scenarios where the subject would be unaware and unable to escape. They would use their best judgement to determine which option to use and when they should make a move. At the same time, REACTOR would also notify ISOTOPE and ARGON. ISOTOPE was positioned to observe the movement of enemy elements to and from the structures, providing advanced notice of possible reinforcements or reaction teams. ARGON was positioned to the south, in the event the target bypassed the parking lot and moved directly to the CP site. ARGON's view allowed them to provide REACTOR with details of the site in order to update COBALT and CARBON. Finally, an assault team boarded a van and would follow the grab teams to the AO, parking just out of sight, ready to support any eventuality with six more guns.
All that was left to do was wait.
At 0817, a white Jeep with two occupants moves through the field, stopping at various sites. At 0838, ARGON reports noise within a two storey structure, which ISOTOPE suspects is environmental. At 0908, more personnel are seen moving file folders into various parts of the structure. LITHIUM is still not on site. At FOB Picton, the tension is palpable. Task force elements are in or near their vehicles going over options and contingencies. Assault teams pace. The entire element jumps with every radio report from the AO and at 0925, all units get a false start with the observation of a small white SUV approaching the AO. CATALYST reports that it isn’t LITHIUM. The mission abort criteria for the daylight option are starting to come into play. REACTOR knows that both CARBON and COBALT have to be be released for other taskings no later than 1030h. If that point is reached, the majority of the task force will stand down and reorganize for the fourth and fifth mission options. The loss of the third mission concept would also signal the scrubbing of the last low risk option. All elements are acutely aware that after 1030h, the odds of survival for all task force members start to drop substantially.
[REACTOR reports a white Nissan closing in on the AO]
At 1002h, REACTOR reports a white SUV moving toward the AO. At 1003h, CATALYST transmits the words everyone has been waiting for. “We’ve got a positive ID on LITHIUM…”
[CATALYST confirms he has a positive ID of LITHIUM in the AO]
[LITHIUM vehicle image transmitted by CATLAYST]
Vehicles start and load, target grids are sent, REACTOR informs ISOTOPE and ARGON, and the strike package rolls out of the airbase 60 seconds later. Within two minutes, the grab teams are parked and seeking their target. COBALT and CARBON try to play it cool, owning their role as participants.
CATALYST is unable to maintain visual contact with LITHIUM and suspect he is in the administration building. CARBON and COBALT are able to make visual contact with the target, but he is suspicious or evasive, and an opportunity to make the capture does not present itself. Meanwhile, ARGON and ISOTOPE are reporting the movement of vehicles through the AO, including an increasing presence of armed individuals in the south of the AO. Suddenly, LITHIUM departs the area on foot, and begins moving towards Road B. At the same time, ISOTOPE separately spots an individual roughly matching the description.
The grab team loads into their van, and rolls out, moving towards road B. Rounding the corner, and heading directly towards the target, it is clear LITHIUM has little to no awareness of what is about to happen. Weeks of planning, training, surveillance, intelligence, and practice are about to be tested in the only way that matters.
At 1021h, ISOTOPE reports they have eyes on target and advises it would be an easy grab. With ISOTOPE still in the middle of reporting the opportunity, CARBON and COBALT jump from their vehicle, and pursue LITHIUM. After a short chase, LITHIUM is secured, restrained, and blindfolded.
[ISOTOPE witnesses COBALT and CARBON apprehend LITHIUM]
[COBALT and CARBON apprehend LITHIUM]
“All callsigns, we have the target.”
[CARBON calling in the capture]
[LITHIUM in custody, on route to FOB Picton with CARBON and COBALT]
By 1022h, CARBON, COBALT, are on route back to FOB Picton, followed closely by the assault team. Two minutes later, CATALYST, ARGON, and ISOTOPE begin their extract procedures.
[Assault team arrives to assist in securing the ToC and LITHIUM]
At 1025h, LITHIUM is under guard in a secure room. By 1057h, the final elements of Task Force Verdant Star step out of their extraction vehicles, and into FOB Picton. Finally, at 1100h, Intelligence specialists arrive to handle the interrogation. They enter the secure room, and close the door behind them.
[LITHIUM in custody]