Sniping in Mountain Country

Spec Ops Shooting

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Mountain sniping is characterized by frequent high-angle uphill or downhill shots, long-distance shots across chasms, and terrain that lends itself well to stalking and concealment. With many ridgelines and jagged fingers, this environment should afford you plenty of protection from enemy small-arms fire, too. Also, the many sound reflective surfaces found in mountains readily generate confusing echoes, which you can exploit to great effect by how you position your hide.

Maybe my judgment's colored by memories of elk hunting in Colorado, but I'd feel much better in mountain country with the superior range and wind-bucking advantages of a .300 Winchester Magnum than with a .308/7.62mm. I think the various .50-caliber sniper rifles are too bulky and heavy for day-to-day operations in difficult mountain terrain, but they'd fit the bill perfectly for some special raids and ambushes.

And talking about winds, they get really tricky in canyons and valleys, similar to how we've already illustrated them for major urban areas. Usually the closer you are to the bottom of a steep valley, the

more likely the wind is to follow its long axis, while wind direction and speed will vary with altitude.

Altitude may affect your bullet's trajectory significantly enough that we're featuring this in its own section. (See page 547.)

American sniper and Special Ops teams working Afghanistan's Hindu Kush Range of the Himalayas have coined a new term—"acoustic dead space"—meaning you can be slighdy on one side of a high ridge yet not hear gunfire a quarter-mile away on the reverse slope, which is important if an adjacent team is being attacked or Taliban lookouts are signaling each other with rifle fire. Be aware of this.

A longtime Special Forces friend just back from Afghanistan told me, "John, you can't believe the terrain we're fighting in." Indeed, some of these mountains are a third higher than the Colorado Rockies, with narrow defiles and steep cliffs—all devoid of trees. SSgt. Matthew Blaskowski, an Army Scout-Sniper wounded in the remote Arghandab Valley, told Army interviewers his unit was "surrounded by walls, steep cliffs." From atop them, Taliban shooters poured fire on the Scout-Snipers, Blaskowla recalled. "It was a very uncomfortable feeling."

At times, Afghanistan's immense valleys and mountains seem so deceptively empty of human presence that you wouldn't know where to begin to look for the enemy. Keep in mind that these guerrillas aren't flying around, and they can't rappel up and down those mountains. Natural line of drift analysis (see Chapter 11) and careful map studies can provide clues to the age-old goat trails used by a dozen generations of smugglers and today's al Qaeda and Taliban. Identify those natural lines of drift and you'll find them and can engage them.

There's a temptation with such apparently unlimited visibility—often measurable in miles—to forgo facial camouflage, but that's a mistake. Keep in mind that the American Indian referred to his Caucasian adversaries as "pale faces" because that was a major target indicator. Even at long range, in the right lighting pale flesh can stick out.

Probably the greatest advantage American snipers have over the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters is their optics, which our teams are using to the maximum. It's having an effect because these foes have largely fled across the border into Pakistan or the most remote mountain valleys of an already remote country.

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