Duties of a Sniper

Spec Ops Shooting

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Target enemy snipers and surveillance teams.

Target commanders, officers and pilots, "that is, to target the head of the snake and then handicap the command of the enemy."

Assist teams of mujahideen infantry with suppressive fire. These teams may include RPG brigades or surveillance teams.

Target U.S. Special Forces, "they are very stupid because they have a 'Rambo complex,' thinking that they are the best in the world. Don't be arrogant like them." Engage specialty targets like communications officers to prevent calls for reinforcements. Likewise, tank crews, artillery crews, engineers, doctors, and chaplains should be fair targets.

— a tank driver was shot while crossing a bridge, resulting in the tank rolling off the bridge and killing the rest of the crew

— Killing doctors and chaplains is suggested as a means of psychological warfare

Take care when targeting one or two U.S. soldiers or [Iraqi] agents on a roadside. "A team of American snipers [may be] waiting for you. They [may be] waiting for you to kill one of those agents and then they will know your location and they will kill you."

In the event of urban warfare, work from high areas and assist infantry with surrounding the enemy, attacking target instruments and lines of sight on large enemy vehicles, and directing mortar and rocket fire to front-line enemy positions.

along nearby Highway 8, Lieutenant Johnson noticed civilian vehicles converging. "Cars were pulling up without lights, scooters were coming in and out, and 20 to 30 military-aged Iraqis appeared/' he recalled. As Johnson told his radioman to call for a Quick Reaction Force, the arriving Iraqis suddenly opened fire, attempting to overrun the snipers. Johnson was shot three times—through one lung, his back, and his left arm. Friendly forces arrived, compelling the attackers to withdraw. Johnson was medevacked back to the States and survived.

Two months later, in Ramadi, 20 miles west of Baghdad, a similar sudden assault by two dozen insurgents succeeded in overrunning a

Marine sniper position. These four Marines, too, had been on a surveillance mission, but the aggressive attack and heavy fire was more than they could repel. The insurgent attackers stripped their bodies, then videotaped them for foreign propaganda distribution.

The next such incident again took place in Ramadi on 4 November 2004. This time an eight-man Marine sniper element was crossing a darkened street at 2:30 a.m. when, with no warning, a remote-controlled bomb detonated, killing two and seriously wounding several others, including the sniper platoon sergeant. The Marines had been en route to a surveillance position.


The most publicized attack on American snipers came in August 2005, when two Marine sniper teams—six men—were ambushed and killed near Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. In this case I received a copy of the terrorist videotape that recorded the ambush, so I was able to derive considerable detail. Initially, the Marines advanced as two three-man teams through head-high sand dunes, about 25 meters apart. Then an insurgent pickup truck rolled to a stop at a nearby farmhouse, apparently within sight of the Marines, who probably did not notice a 120mm mortar pulled out and set up. When all was ready, it appears that insurgent machine gun fire pinned the Marines atop a sand dune, then the mortar pounded them with high-explosive rounds until all were incapacitated. It's not clear in the videotape, but I suspect a final assault by insurgents ended the fight. Later, the masked insurgents videotaped a stripped body, then laid out a display of captured gear and weapons beneath palm trees, including two M40A4 sniper rifles.

What all these incidents have in common is that they were not chance contacts. The insurgents executed planned attacks or ambushes and knew where the sniper teams were positioned or could accurately anticipate their routes. Clearly these teams were compromised.

The cause could be operational security— OPSEC—meaning the Americans had unwittingly telegraphed their punches or repeatedly used the same positions or routes. Equally, though, the cause could have been penetration by hostile intelligence, a major problem we faced in my old covert warfare unit, MACV-SOG. In the Studies and Observations Group and the 5th Special Forces Group as a whole, there was such a continuing shortage of interpreters that Vietnamese nationals often were hired without proper vetting—and some were

Despite serious wounds, 1st Lt. Eric Johnson's sniper team fought off mass attackers in Iraq. Other teams have not been so fortunate.

enemy agents. The simplest, most reliable way for a hostile intelligence service to penetrate American military units is to dangle an English-speaking interpreter before them. We had 14 Special Forces SOG teams vanish behind enemy lines and another 10 overrun and annihilated, some due to compromise by enemy ijioles. Interpreters are essential, but I urge readers, deny interpreters advance knowledge of operations, and keep them away from operational maps and planning meetings.


American forces in Iraq are practicing all the passive countersniper measures cited in Chapter 19, plus, as fitting, those learned in Sarajevo. (See sidebar, page 495.)

Unlike previous conflicts, however, U.S. military personnel are also benefiting from body armor that protects wearers from even the powerful 7.62x54mm sniping round. Several GIs have survived solid hits from this bullet— I'm aware of at least three—and come away with little more than an ugly bruise. It's heavy, it's hot in Iraq's summer heat, but it genuinely works.

Modern Kevlar helmets, too, have saved a number of lives and have proved more effective than the old steel pot ever was. U.S. Army SSgt. Chad Chapman would have been another one-shot kill for an Iraqi sniper, but the bullet struck his Kevlar helmet, knocking him unconscious with no lasting effect. At least two other GIs have survived similar hits to Kevlar helmets.


As with passive measures, U.S. forces are employing all the active countermeasures cited in Chapter 19. Additionally, dismounted patrols are run through areas in which a sniper could approach or stalk toward a U.S.

Living proof that body armor works, USMC LCpl. Richard Fragments of the 7.62x54mm bullet intended to take the Guillenavila shows where a sniper's bullet struck his life of Lance Corporal Guillenavila. protective vest

This ACOG scope saved the life of USMC Sgt. Todd Bowers by stopping 3 sniper's bullet in Fallujah. The scope was a gift from his father.


During much of the 1990s, the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia, was the scene of unrelenting sniping by Serbian gunmen. Hidden in carefully selected dominant terrain in the surrounding hills or inside modern concrete buildings, these concealed riflemen took an almost daily toll of men, women, and even children to challenge the division of Yugoslavia into independent states.

NATO and UN forces provided security assistance, to include countersnipers, who learned much from this protracted urban fight. Here are their most important lessons:

1. Intelligence support is critical, to include:

a. Dead Space Analysis: Tracking bullet impacts and lines of fire helped identify safe routes and hazardous ones. This analysis also provided clues to likely Serbian Final Firing Positions, which could then be intensely observed.

b. Periodic Photography: Regularly photographing buildings and high ground likely to be used by Serb snipers helped detect subtle changes, such as removed windows, firing ports cut in walls, and shifted barrier materials.

c. Pattern Analysis: Detailed assessment of each sniping incident contributed to a larger mosaic that provided useful clues for future sniping incidents, such as times, locations, and methods. This analysis was best accomplished by directly involving countersnipers in the process to help interpret the raw data.

2. Passive measures are as useful as active measures:

a. Identify Safe Routes: Shift civilian and military traffic away from the snipers' direct fire to streets and alleys and areas into which snipers cannot observe or fire.

b. Install Screens to Block Sniper Observation: Along hazardous routes or locations within the snipers' field of fire, erect screens to block his observation. Such screens are not ballistically protective, composed usually of canvas or plywood.

c. Employ Armored Vehicles: Even lightly armored personnel carriers and fighting vehicles offered sufficient protection against sniper fire.

3. Barrier penetration is absolutely essential:

a. Sniper Positions Heavily Barricaded: Serb snipers deeply embedded themselves in rubbled buildings and/or elaborately positioned concrete blocks, timbers, and sandbags around their positions.

b. 7.62mm and .300 WinMag of Limited Application: Although accurately placed, counterfire shots from standard sniper rifles often could not penetrate well-constructed Serbian firing positions. However, accurate fire usually had a suppressing effect.

c. Need for Overmatching: Only heavy rifles —.338 Lapua Magnum and ,50-caliber rifles—could penetrate Serb barriers with reasonable consistency.

d. Rifle Weight and Bulk Matters: Many NATO countersnipers preferred the .338 Lapua Magnum over the ,50-cal. because it was lighter and easier to manipulate while climbing, running, and stalking.

Riddled by sniper fire, a NATO vehicle is halted along a Sarajevo street.

installation, while dominating terrain is denied enemy snipers by occupying it or keeping it under surveillance.

Much more so than the past, surveillance has become aerial. Both the Army and Marines are employing small unmanned aerial vehicles— UAVs—to search rooftops and likely sniper positions. The scale of this effort is astounding— more than 1,000 UAVs are currendy in use in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the U.S. Defense Department, looking for roadside bombs, snipers, and a host of other threats.

Despite all these roving eyes in the sky, however, most countersniper engagements still result from the tried and true—U.S. snipers intensely surveilling for their Iraqi foes. I've

To obscure sniper observation, U.S. Marines in Ramadi burn a large smoke bomb.

U.S. Marines ready an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Fallujah to fly reconnaissance in support of the Marine assault and to watch rooftops for Iraqi snipers.

With a SAW machine gunner alert to return fire, a Marine raises a dummy head to attract sniper fire in Fallujah.

Hoping to attract a hidden sniper's shot, a U.S. Army sniper raises a cleverly designed decoy head iri Iraq. (Note .50-caliber sniper rifle in background.)

With a SAW machine gunner alert to return fire, a Marine raises a dummy head to attract sniper fire in Fallujah.

been quite impressed by the quality of lures and decoys fashioned by American counter-snipers, as good as those waved over the trenches in World War I to attract fire from Hun sharpshooters.

And the same old-fashioned techniques still work. A 1st Cavalry Division sniper, SSgt. Jeff Young, exploited the shifting rays of the setting sun to pinpoint an Iraqi sniper. "We got lucky when die sun was going down," he told Stars and Stripes. "It hit his scope at the right angle and we got a glare in our direction so we engaged it."

Another Army sniper, Sgt. Randall Davis, twice defeated opposing snipers, engaging them from a rooftop in Samarra. Firing an M25 Designated Marksman Rifle, he patiently outwaited an Iraqi sniper who had fired on Americans three days earlier. When the Iraqi finally reappeared, Davis' keen eyes picked him out of the shadows where he stalked. As the Iraqi raised up to fire his SVD rifle, one shot from Davis and it was over. In the second case, Davis eliminated an Iraqi sniper with a 750-yard shot with a Barrett .50-caliber M107, thanks to his team's high-quality optics.

From a laptop computer inside this HMMWv, a Marine can so precisely control the TRAP 250 s .50-C3)iber that he r ■

rifles, including the USMC s

The TRAP 250 laptop computer view through a Unertl

From a laptop computer inside this HMMWv, a Marine can so precisely control the TRAP 250 s .50-C3)iber that he can hit a soda can at 100 meters.

with acoustic sensors and GPS locators. The

Army Research Laboratory is even installing these countersniper systems on small radio-

controlled robots, and I d speculate that r ■

helicopter-mounted ones aren t long in the future. Some of these prototypes probably will find their wav to Iraq.

High-Teen Engagements

Something that s here right now and deploved to Iraq in 2005 is a very capable, rcmote-controlled firing unit for optically rifles, including the USMC s equipped

Designated Marksman Rifle, the Stoner SR-25, and the Barrett .50 caliber. Manufactured by-

Precision Remotes, the TRAP 250 System stabinzed cradle and video ink

The TRAP 250 laptop computer view through a Unertl incorporates scope, with video zoomed to 80x.

that allows remote operator to minutely

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