The following is from an interview with an interrogator working with indigenous forces to quell a brutal three-way civil war. For the sake of anonymity, names, locations, and other identifying information was removed. Otherwise, it is presented in its entirety, wholly unedited. Reader discretion is advised.
It was hard to tell who were the good guys, going in. The regime was oppressive, led by a maniac who had no problem gassing his own people if it meant staying in power. Then there were the religious nuts, convinced that they could carve out a holy land and build their "perfect world." In the middle you had a coalition of various tribes, some oppressed, some opportunistic, most just wanting to protect their lands and their families.
The zealots had spread outwards from their "caliphate", orchestrating a series of terror attacks across a number of planets. That's what got us involved. We weren't about to side with the regime, for obvious reasons, but we weren't really there to fight them, either. Some of the coalition were just as dirty and brutal as the other two, and we couldn't really justify giving aid to them, either.
Eventually, we found a comfortable middle ground. There was a self proclaimed defense force, made up primarily of a tribe of mountain folk. The regime labelled them as terrorists, mostly because they objected strenuously whenever some mad bastard decided to genocide them. Happened once every few decades. They had their own issues with extremists, but honestly, it's hard to blame them for being upset, what with the whole ethnic cleansing thing they had to put up with.
They had two things going for them, from our perspective. Firstly, they just wanted to be left alone. They didn't care who sat on the throne, just so long as they didn't have to worry about death squads. The common folks recognized that, and if they didn't love them for it, they weren't afraid of them, either. The second factor in their favor was that they hated the fanatics, and the feeling was mutual.
The regime, reluctantly, tolerated our presence, on the grounds we could show up in force and hang the lot of them if they made a nuisance of themselves. And, even more reluctantly, they tolerated us giving arms, training, and other aid to the defense force. They weren't thrilled that their favorite whipping boys were going to be even harder targets, but this caliphate was a thorn in their side. If they devoted enough power to wipe it out, they'd leave themselves vulnerable to attack from the other rebels. From their perspective, it wasn't a good deal, it was the only one they were going to get.
There were never more than a few thousand of us on the ground at any given time. The DF had bodies aplenty, but what they lacked were specialists: engineers, artillerymen, medical personnel, combat controllers, and other highly technical trades that they didn't have the education system to produce organically. They were hell on wheels in a firefight, but completely incapable of waging a coordinated campaign against a determined enemy. The fact that they had survived for as long as they had was much a testament to the regime's incompetence as it was to their tenacity.
Where they were getting hammered hardest, though, was intel. That's where I came in.
No disrespect to my redleg brothers, but it doesn't take a brain surgeon to drop a shell on a building. These days, it's just a matter of punching in the right coordinates and watching the fireworks. A trained monkey could do it.
Knowing when and where to drop the shell, now that's a whole different ballgame.
My job was, primarily, to talk to prisoners and get them to spill the beans. It's a little more technical than that, but trade secrets and whatnot. My secondary function was to train the DF interrogators, so they could do the job once we were gone.
The hardest part about that was getting it through their heads that torture is almost never a good idea. That's not to say it can't work, or even that there isn't a time and a place for it. Outside of a few very specific instances though, there are better ways. Unfortunately, both the regime and the caliphate had a nasty habit of running POWs through the ringer, so the DF, as one might expect, retaliated as much for revenge as anything else. They didn't like the gentler approach, and you best believe in the rare case where I let them take the gloves off, they did so with gusto.
But, like I said, mostly it wasn't necessary.
See, what a lot of people don't realize is that, more often than not, fighting evil means fighting evil's conscripts, the farmers and tradesmen who just so happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They didn't want to fight in the first place, and the only reason they did was because they had no other choice. Well, I take that back. They could have sat back and watched their sons get beheaded, their wives and daughters sold into hellish slavery, and then get their fun bits chopped off, but that's not much of a choice, if you ask me.
Most of these guys, they sang like canaries. They'd tell you whatever you wanted to know, about anything. The problem was, they were rarely trusted with anything useful. Most of them were barely literate, if they could read at all. Their knowledge of future operations was minimal at best, and what they did know had to be cross referenced with other sources before it could be trusted.
That's not to say that they weren't worth talking to. Some of their stories were incredible. There was this one guy, he was a farmer back before the war. We were the fourth people to capture him. The first time, he got caught by the regime. They tortured him for a couple of weeks, then let him go because he wasn't valuable enough to execute. The second time he got caught, it was one of the rebel militias. They strung him up for a week and burned him with heated iron bars. No reason, they just got their rocks off on torture. He managed to escape with the help of some other prisoners. The third time, it was his commanding officer. The caliphate had a thing against smoking, and he got caught with cigarettes. They beat him nearly to death as an example.
When he realized that we weren't going to work him over, he practically cried with relief. He'd been around long enough, he actually knew some useful intel, so as a favor, we listed him as KIA. Not only did that mean he could start over somewhere else, it meant his family got a stipend from the caliphate, enough to make up for the pay he could no longer send them. Last I heard, he shipped offworld and got an education. Brought his family along too, once the caliphate was stamped out.
The next sort of prisoner was the fellow who wasn't a fanatic, but joined up willingly. Plenty of dumb kids who just wanted some adventure. There was this one kid, barely sixteen years old, who had something of a reputation as a hotshot on a swoop bike. The problem was, his broke and he couldn't afford to get it fixed. The caliphate would give him or if he joined, so he did. He got caught inside a week, bragging to one of our agents. The poor kid was trying to impress girls.
Depending on why they signed up, these guys weren't usually hard to break. The kids realized pretty quickly that they were in over their heads and tried to save their necks. Occasionally though, we ran into a hard case.
One guy in particular sticks out in my mind. He was in love with a woman and wanted to marry her. The problem was, her family was from the wrong tribe. Their families wouldn't let them get married, so they ran away to the caliphate. He had some military experience, so he was selected for their version of special ops. When it came time to choose his team name, he went with her family name, so whenever someone addressed him, he would remember why he fought.
Honestly, I can't blame the guy. He joined the wrong side and did some bad things, but who hasn't done some bad stuff for love? We cut him some slack once we heard the story.
Every now and again, we'd catch a true, hardcore fanatic. Most of them fought to the death rather than allow themselves to be captured, but it happened. You'd know it as soon as you walked into the room, you could see the hate in their eyes. Some of them would scream and yell and curse and spit, and those you knew you could break. They were like glass: hard, but brittle. They knew they'd done terrible things, but rather than face it, they masked it with hate and fury. Take away that mask and they cracked, every time.
The real hard cases, they didn't bother with the theatrics. "Kark you, this is jihad." These were the guys who'd massacre a village and not miss a beat. I can't tell you how many mass graves we found, filled with the violated and beheaded bodies of women and little girls. The angry ones, you could show them the pictures, tell them a little bit about their victims, and it was over. The calm ones? "Kark you, this is jihad."
Yeah, I didn't mind letting the DF have their fun with those guys. I never laid a hand on one, since that would have been the end of my career, but what happened after I left and turned the cameras off wasn't my business.
Some people will tell you that the Sith are evil, or that the Empire or First Order or whatever are evil. Maybe they're right, I don't know. I've heard some nasty stories. But none of those stories come close to the things I saw in that desert. My nightmares aren't about tattooed guys with red lightsabers. They're about expressionless men with hate in their eyes, saying "kark you, this is jihad."