Special Sniping Operations

Spec Ops Shooting

Ultimate Firearms Training Guide

Get Instant Access


Since the capture of Baghdad by U.S. armed forces in 2003, more Americans have been killed by roadside bombs in Iraq than any other method. It's the greatest threat faced by Coalition forces and war on the cheap for the insurgents; once an improvised explosive device (IED) is in place, it requires only one man to detonate it, making this an economical way to fight U.S. forces.

Probably the most effective counter co roadside bombings is the employment of sniper teams in a clandestine surveillance role. Due to their optics, their stealth, and their superb camouflage, U.S. Army and Marine sniper teams have discovered, prevented, or acted on numerous attempts to implant and detonate lEDs along major roads and highways. And each time they've disrupted such an attack, they've saved several—even dozens—of U.S. lives.

This is a specialized sniper surveillance role because teams must infiltrate areas frequented by Iraqi civilians and remain fixed in thin concealment for days at a time. From insertion, while observing, and right through exfiltration, these counter-IED teams must not be detected,

An Israeli sniper overwatches 3 traffic control point in Israel, watching lor threats to soldiers and for terrorist suspects bypassing the TCP.

both for their own security and to ensure that the insurgents are killed or captured while attempting such nefarious deeds.

The first challenge is infiltrating without detection, most readily accomplished in darkness or as a stay behind when a platoon-size American patrol passes through or sets up security for an adjacent traffic control point (TCP) roadblock. Exfiltration is equally important because the surveillance position may be used again—and it's always useful to leave the enemy guessing on how he was detected.

Initial selection of this position can result from aerial photos, a visual recon aboard a helicopter, or even a drive-by amid an ordinary-looking convoy or vehicular patrol. To plan an effective infil, the team should have a clear destination in mind.

While the team's in place, they're heavily camouflaged. To avoid compromising their location, they may forego direcdy engaging the enemy and instead radio for a Quick Reaction Force or helicopter gunship attack.

Along some busy highways it's simply impossible to infiltrate without being noticed by civilians—in which case, don't kid yourself about operating clandestinely. Assume your

USMC Sot, Willis Davis (L) and his assistant team leader, Cpl. Joseph Piner, surveil an Iraqi highway on the lookout for insurgents planting lEOs.

presence is known and subject to compromise, which means you should be on good defensive terrain even though you'll attempt to be inconspicuous.

One trick to help conceal your team's presence is to employ friendly Iraqis disguised as "muj" to stage a demonstration within sight of your position. (In MACV-SOG we often put our indigenous soldiers in enemy uniforms to confuse our foes.) Have two fake insurgents halt their car, brandish SVDs or RPGs, shout at some local civilians, then drive off. In only a few seconds you will have convinced the locals that no U.S. snipers are anywhere within shooting range. (To be really clever, the fake insurgents can even demand to know if the civilians have seen any Americans.) Of course, make sure your "muj" are not engaged inadvertently by other U.S. forces.

Counter-IED surveillance missions are long and difficult. "We'll be going for two, three, four days at a time in the baking sun in 113-degree weather," explains USMC Sgt. Willis Davis. "And if it's 113 degrees outside, it gets to be 145-150 inside a Ghillie suit." The payoff, though, is well worth it to such dedicated snipers.

Navy Petty Officcr 3rd Class Jeff Pursley, a medic operating with a Marine sniper team, helped foil a roadside bombing in August 2004. Along a dangerous stretch of highway nicknamed "IED Alley," his team observed two vehicles halt at night to plant a bomb inside the stripped remains of a car. While the insurgents unrolled detonation wires, the sniper team leader, Sgt. Joshua Clark, had the Marines stalk forward and engage at close range, forcing several insurgents to flee and capturing one.

USMC Sot, Willis Davis (L) and his assistant team leader, Cpl. Joseph Piner, surveil an Iraqi highway on the lookout for insurgents planting lEOs.

A Marine sniper team spotted insurgents planting an IED in this abandoned car. Note electrical wire rigging it for remote detonation.

was noticed along a busy highway, Hartman's squad leader, SSgt. David Jensen, examined it through binoculars. On the dashboard he spotted a ceil phone—the insurgent's favorite means for remote detonation—wired to a large package on the front seat. It was no sweat for the superb marksman, Hartman, who fired two shots—one to blow out the window and a second to destroy the cell phone. Afterward an EOD team destroyed the car in place.


Sniper teams have also proven themselves adepc at interdicting insurgent mortar teams and RPG rocketeers and heavy machine gunners. Particularly, the insurgents have attempted to exploit darkness to approach American installations and inflict casualties from so great a distance that they can fire a few rounds and safely escape. Typically these attacks by fire originate at 500 or more yards from a U.S. position, far enough that counter-fire is unlikely to hit the fleeing artackers.

To counter this, sniper teams insert clandestinely or depart their bases under the cover of darkness. Depending on the terrain and potential enemy firing positions, the sniper teams occupy a suitable overwatch position or patrol any approaches to the base.

U.S. Army Sgts. Daniel Osborne and Cyrus Field demonstrated what snipers can do against such attackers when they were targeted against an insurgent .50-caliber machine gun that repeatedly attacked a U.S. base near Baghdad.

Sgt. Herbert Hancock (L) and teammate Cpl. Geoffrey Flowers watch for suspicious activity from an Iraqi rooftop.

From a four-story roof, they spotted the machine gunners firing some 800 yards away and—using night vision devices—simultaneously fired their M24 rifles. Two Iraqis fell at the machine gun and two others turned to run. Osborne and Field ran their bolts and again fired simultaneously, and the last two insurgents fell. In less than 10 seconds they'd dropped all four gunners, and not one of them was farther than 15 yards from the machine gun.

On 9 June 2004, a four-man sniper team from Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, after hiding for a full day, spotted insurgents firing a 60mm mortar into an American installation, Forward Operating Base Dakota, The snipers killed two of the three gunners, then rccovercd the mortar, a quantity of ammo and a loaded RPG-7 launcher. Likewise, U.S. Army Spec. 4 Ryan Cannon, with the 82nd Airborne Division, could barely make out an insurgent mortarman in the darkness, some 500 yards away, about to drop a round in his tube. Then the Iraqi puffed on a cigarette, just enough glow to make him out, and—bang! Another indirect fire attack stopped dead.

Some of these sniper engagements have evolved into much larger affairs. Air Force General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters about a U.S. sniper team that wounded two insurgent mortarmen, then followed their blood trails to a nearby compound. A Quick Reaction Force captured 12 insurgents inside, which inspired a larger search thac netted two trucks loaded with more than 1,500 rockets, apparent truck bombs in the final stage of assembly.


A tactic first employed in 1993 in Mogadishu uses snipers to enforce a public weapons ban. In Somalia, this meant sanitizing the streets of pickup trucks carrying Sov iet 12.7mm heavy

Sgt. Herbert Hancock (L) and teammate Cpl. Geoffrey Flowers watch for suspicious activity from an Iraqi rooftop.

machine guns, called "technicals," along with anyone carrying an RPG or any other crew-served weapon. American snipers from all services—Army Special Forces, Marines, and Navy SEALs—demonstrated that within a few days, precision fire could effectively clear the streets of such heavy weapons. In one case, a sniper firing a .50-ca)iber Barrett with Raufoss exploding ammo even destroyed a ZSU-23-4 tracked antiaircraft gun. Maj. Gen. Carl Ernst, the commander of U.S. forces in Somalia, was so impressed by this performance that he inspired a major expansion of sniper training and improved sniper weaponry throughout the U.S. Army.

In Iraq this mission has similarly proved itself. In October 2004, the entire sniper platoon from the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, was sent into the town of Hit to rid it of heavily armed insurgent gangs who'd taken over the streets. Not only were they attacking U.S. vehicles but indiscriminately shooting bystanders and detonating IEDs along congested streets.

"They were all out in the open doing whatever they wanted to," said Sgc. Herbert Hancock, the platoon's chief Scout-Sniper. "They were in control of that side of the city, rerouting traffic, threatening to kill people, and terrorizing people."

The Marines began by targeting masked gunmen in a traffic circle. Sgt. Milo Afong shot the first insurgent, but instead of fleeing, more terrorists streamed into the area. The Marine snipers were ready for them.

For the next 45 minutes it was like the shootout at the O.K. Corral, a wild gunfight decisively won by the snipers. "At first they were fighting us out in the open and behind cars," recalled Cpl. Steven R. Johnson. "That wasn't working for them so they got up in the buildings and tried to set up concealed positions and shoot at us."

The fighting went on for several days, but eventually the masked thugs had to give up the streets—or die.

The Army's 4th Infantry Division similarly targeted an arms bazaar in downtown Tikrit after repeated warnings that the sale of military weapons had to cease. Teams of snipers engaged Iraqis carrying automatic weapons, killing three. Though the tactic was criticized in the press, it ended that black market's sale of weapons and ammunition to the insurgents.


A raid is characterized by a stealthy approach, surprise assault, aggressive execution, great violence, short duration, and rapid withdrawal. The raiding force is executing a carefully thought-out plan, one they have rehearsed, perfected, and memorized. It's similar to an ambush, except a raid's objective is fixed, and the attacker selects both the location and the time of action. By implication, a raid's target always is an enemy installation far enough behind fus lines that he does not anticipate an attack.

Because the assault element needs the heavy firepower of submachine guns and assault rifles, sniper teams usually are assigned to the security element, which is responsible for sealing off the objective and preventing both its reinforcement and the escape of enemy personnel.

The utility of snipers supporting the assault element and the raid itself will be dictated mostly by terrain, which determines whether there are clear fields of fire for a sniper weapon. If the terrain is suitable, snipers may support the assault by placing precision fire into key targets within the objective. Remember that a sniper team doesn't generate a heavy volume of fire and therefore should not be assigned tasks more fittingly accomplished by machine guns.

A sniper's targets should be distant, small, and unalert to best exploit the capabilities of his rifle during a raid. A perfect scenario is a sniper-inibat-ed assault, in which the synchronized fire of multiple snipers neutralizes gate guards at an enemy base just as a hidden assault force rushes them. Or snipers could eliminate an enemy observation post or perhaps a border guard checkpoint. These also are excellent situations for suppressed sniper rifles.

Since there are few other lightweight, hand-carried weapons effective out to 1,000 yards that a

Sniper Hide440 Mopar Vapor Separator ImageCaliber Sniper Rifle Shot

STAY BEHIND. This sniper team slipped away from a passing patrol and will stay behind.


Ambushing fleeing guerrillas.

long-range fires making life miserable, if not hazardous, deep behind an enemy's lines. We've identified several specialized sniping applications that can harvest fruitful results in this theater of special warfare.

Was this article helpful?

+1 0
Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

Deer hunting is an interesting thing that reminds you of those golden old ages of 19th centuries, where a handsome hunk well equipped with all hunting material rides on horse searching for his target animal either for the purpose of displaying his masculine powers or for enticing and wooing his lady love.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment