Sniping in Jungles

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An unfortunate misimpression generated by several recent books is that sniping was widely practiced during the Vietnam War. I don't wish to diminish the honor and achievements of Vietnam snipers, but we must realistically recognize that a jungled environment is not normally suited to longrange engagements.

The usefulness of sniping is dictated by terrain, and Vietnam's triple-canopy jungle did not generally lend itself to sniping. The major exceptions were the devegetated northern hill country of I Corps, where legendary USMC snipers Chuck MaWhinney and Carlos Hathcock operated, and the Mekong Delta, where the 9th Infantry Division's Adelbert E Waldron III performed admirably.

The vast, vast majority of contacts with enemy personnel occurred at close range, usually about 50 yards or less, due to Vietnam's thick vegetation. In such conditions, you're at a disadvantage if you're armed with a scoped rifle and your enemy has a large-magazine assault rifle. As a (humble) survivor of many firefights during three years in Vietnam, I can think of only one instance where I would have preferred to have had a scoped rifle.

But sniping still has utility in jungle country, provided a sniper's properly employed in terrain where he can exploit his superior optics and ballistic advantage. Just taking a sniper along for an operation in thick jungle—as can happen too easily—is the height of foolishness.

Assuming you're deployed in an area where there's adequate observation and fields of fire, though, certain aspects of the jungle can be exploited to great effect. First, unlike any other terrain, jungle foliage absorbs sound well, making it tough for the enemy to detect your muzzle blast location. Second, jungle concealment is excellent, and you won't need a hot Ghillie suit to be invisible. And third—and I have no doubt this is why I'm alive today—the enemy may attempt to chase you through thick jungle, but the lush greenery quickly swallows you, making pursuit extremely difficult.

Cross-country jungle travel is slow and physically demanding for a sniper

Sparse foliage in Afghanistan's lowlands makes for difficult stalking. Thus, sniper teams maneuver in darkness and exploit folds in the land.


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