Forums / Strategies, Tactics & Training / Army returns to an old tactic to defeat resurgent Taliban: sniping

5 years 20 weeks ago, 4:06 PM

Eturnit3

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Army returns to an old tactic to defeat resurgent Taliban: sniping

As concern mounts over the number of civilian casualties caused by air strikes in Afghanistan, the army is switching tactics. Mark Townsend visits the marksmen about to be deployed on the front line and asks them about the psychology of killing

In the moments before he pulls the trigger, Dean has learnt to switch off. No longer does the 28-year-old sniper register the close-up face caught in the centre of his crosshairs. "It's about getting into your bubble, focusing on the act until it becomes automatic, repetitive. You concentrate only on the shot," said the Coldstream Guards colour sergeant. Like all army snipers, Dean does not disclose his surname for fear of his family becoming a target for home-grown extremists. Within modern warfare and its array of laser-guided missiles and smart bombs, only men like Dean regularly see their victims at the point of death.

Snipers are playing an increasingly important role in Helmand province in Afghanistan where 8,100 British soldiers are stationed. Scores of Taliban have been shot dead. One sniper alone is reported to have killed 39 of the enemy. Dean, who spent six months in Helmand last year, would not talk about his "kill tally", but admitted that colleagues routinely accounted for "handfuls" of the enemy.

Snipers are becoming an increasingly valued weapon in the desert of Helmand. "We're starting to see a definite renaissance of sniping," said Frank, a captain and commanding officer of the sniper division at the Land Warfare Centre in Wiltshire.

Sniping's tactical comeback is facilitated by mounting concern over the number of civilian casualties in southern Afghanistan caused by air strikes. Fears over the risk of collateral damage from jets are bolstered by field reports indicating that snipers are the military's most cost-effective, discriminating fighting machine in Helmand.

A report by Civic - the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict - will this week corroborate concern over collateral damage by confirming a record death toll of Afghan civilians last year. However, Civic's Sarah Holewinski said they had no evidence or reports of British snipers mistakenly targeting innocent Afghans and hoped that the "planning going into sniper use remains thorough and sound".

At the Wiltshire training base, courses are heavily oversubscribed. More than 240 soldiers are vying to be selected for the 120 places a year. In Helmand itself there are 25 snipers seeking to engage "high-value targets" such as Taliban commanders or individuals identified as linked to al-Qaida. The armed forces have 330 trained snipers at present, more than double the total during the 1990s, when sniping was wound down.

Sniping is a form of psychological warfare. Shots from an invisible source can, according to the Ministry of Defence, induce terror in advancing forces; even tank commanders cower inside from an unseen but precise foe. Yet the real mental duel is contested within the sniper's mind. Its practitioners know that, when they squeeze the trigger, the object of their concentration will die.

Frank looks for recruits whose minds are sufficiently robust to concentrate on their mission rather than the human being within their sights. "It is one thing to kill in the heat of the battle when the blood's up, but it's quite another when you have a lot of time to think," he said. "You need to get the right man for the job in case he hesitates or is going to suffer problems down the line."

A calm, composed disposition is a prerequisite. As is patience: snipers can spend hours motionless as they wait for the optimum time to strike. Psychological profiling remains critical in selecting the right candidates; any detection of mental fragility and they are out, says Frank.

The act of shooting itself is a lesson in deliberation. The body must be perfectly still, the breathing controlled. Last week Dean targeted a "simulated head" 400m away across a snow-smothered Wiltshire field. Through the scope of his LII5A3 sniper rifle, the head's two-dimensional features were as clear as if it were sited across a room. Steadily Dean positioned the target into the centre of the mildot reticule, its crosshairs. The headshot is preferable and invariably fatal. But to shoot a bullet in the heat of Afghanistan, first a sniper must ascertain the wind speed, temperature, barometric pressure and humidity at the target.

Many snipers hail from farming communities, men who developed an early interest in hunting and creeping after prey undetected. "It's about stalking; we are looking for that natural hunting ability, looking for a cut above the rest," said Frank.

Snipers must also be comfortable in their own company for days on end as they operate undercover behind Taliban lines. The enemy cannot be allowed to identify their position. It is one thing to kill, but to kill again snipers must be able to retreat without enemy forces pinpointing them.

But, above all, Frank's team must train a sniper to obliterate all distractions; training is deliberately repetitive to make sniping an instinctive process. Any potential psychological effects are addressed at post-operation debriefs under the specialised risk management scheme with help specially tailored to address the unique strains of sniping. Its effectiveness is unknown; there are no data available to measure whether snipers sustain more psychological trauma than, say, infantrymen.

Another factor driving the resurgence of sniping is cost-effectiveness. During the Vietnam war, the average number of rounds expended per kill with M-16 rifles was 50,000.

By contrast, snipers averaged 1.3 bullets per kill, and defence officials estimate that contemporary trends are likely to mirror the ratios recorded in Indochina.

Each of the 8.59mm bullets used by UK snipers in southern Afghanistan costs about £20, compared to a single projectile from the Javelin anti-tank missile, which costs £70,000.

They were pinned down on a small hill just east of Kajaki, northern Helmand, a company of Royal Anglian Regiment infantrymen surrounded by Taliban firing from 21 positions. Amid the chaotic firefight, a lone figure crawled along an exposed ridge and, Lambert and Butler cigarette drooping from his bottom lip, slowly took aim. Over the next 15 minutes, the British sniper methodically eliminated seven of the Taliban gunpoints.

The sniper never said a word, but single-handedly ensured his colleagues made a successful dawn retreat one August morning in 2007, a single example among countless occasions when snipers have underlined their value in Afghanistan. A Royal Marines spokesman said: "Once you have targeted the Taliban, you can run down their numbers pretty quickly; without a doubt, sniping is a battle-winner." He recalled one occasion when a sniper picked out Taliban gunmen 1,800m away, a spot that also helped save lives. Only days after the Kajaki sniper's heroics 18 months ago, a 500lb bomb from an American fighter killed three British soldiers in the same location, an illustration of the risks inherent in high-speed air strikes and a tragedy that advocates of sniping still refer to.

As the Afghan conflict rumbles on, military experts predict the role of the sniper will become increasingly central. The Pentagon is developing a guided smart bullet for use in sniper rifles. In the future, men like Dean may crouch four miles away from their target before sending a smartslug to destroy a distant, faceless foe.
Sniper history

• The verb to snipe originated in the 1770s among British soldiers in India, where a hunter who proved skilled enough to kill the elusive snipe bird was christened a "sniper".

• The battle most synonymous with snipers is arguably the second world war struggle for Stalingrad, when Soviet marksmen inflicted sizeable casualties on the advancing German army and inspired the 2001 film, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law.

• Military snipers are typically deployed in two-man teams, a shooter and spotter, who often swop roles to avoid eye fatigue.

• The first British sniper unit originated within the Lovat Scouts, a Highland regiment formed during the Second Boer War in 1900. They were the first unit to wear a ghillie suit, camouflage clothing designed to resemble heavy foliage.

• One sniper doctrine recommends the selection of targets in descending order by rank to cause optimum disruption.

The time is coming when those who kill you will think they are offering service to God. Jesus - (John 16.2) A penny saved is a government oversight.
5 years 20 weeks ago, 5:31 PM

1hunter

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good post

i am very appreciative of our snipers. when i hear stories of friendly fire casualties it breaks my heart. i like it when we can positively identify targets and take them out. your reference to John 16:2 is one i have pondered. sounds like jihad to me.

5 years 20 weeks ago, 7:38 PM

hillbilly77

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True story

My Dad was a sniper for 20+ years for the US Army special forces. He has told me many times not just anybody can be a sniper. You can teach anybody to shoot, but a man has to have it in him to be able to take a shot at a man that has no idea what is about to hit him. He told me about his first kill as a sniper, and he said it took about three days to realize that he had what it took to do it again. He said after time it got easier and easier untill he compared it to hunting. He said it gets to be adictive after awhile because you get that rush, and when you are not hunting you think about it. He has been out for going on 14 years and he still talks about it. I have learned a lot of things from him, he has been a good mentor to have. The lessons he teaches me are better than any instructional book you can buy for sure. I thank all the service men and women that do the difficult jobs they have to do everyday to keep us free. They defend our rights in foreign countries lets not forget to protect theirs here at home.

“If ever time should come,when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of it's experienced Patriots to prevent it's ruin."Samuel Adams
5 years 19 weeks ago, 12:24 PM

runawaygun762

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Years ago, an Israeli officer was working to train snipers for the IDF. During a portion of the training, he instructed the sniper candidates to make headshots on the targets. Prior to bringing them out to the range, the officer had opened up a head of lettuce and filled it with ketchup and mayonnaise and taped it back to gether. He then placed the head lettuce on a wooden platform behind each of the targets at head level. The students didn't know about the lettuce when they were instructed to make a single head shot. The officer reported a 75 percent drop out rate in the first few classes after the range day where he did that. I am prety sure I read that in the book "On Killing" by LTC(ret) Dave Grossman.

"I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life. The calling of arms, I have followed from boyhood. I have never sought another." From The Virtues of War, by Steven Pressfield.
5 years 17 weeks ago, 11:01 PM

dbphotos

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"God Bless Our Troops,

"God Bless Our Troops, Especially Our Snipers!"

"God Bless Our Troops, Especially Our Snipers."
5 years 16 weeks ago, 11:33 PM

Anonymous

you can count on it.

5 years 9 weeks ago, 4:36 AM

Kerryod

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Nice idea

Snipeing may work in certain Theatres but for general use in Afghanistan it could be like trying to clear a hornets nest one shot at a time a lot of brass and energy expended for very little return.

What might help would be if the snipers were able to seal the Afghan-Pakistan Border because that is where the 'fighters' as they call themselves cross, you control the border you control the supply of fresh meat.

In relation to Iraq again snipers on the border may help a lot. I know of so called travel companies in the UK and one I can name in Peterborough Cambridgeshire that arrange pilgrimages into Syria for young men from the UK who are either British Citizens or who are in the UK on visiters or student visas and then they travel over the Syrian border and become'fighters' in Iraq. These young men have already been radicalised and just go there to kill US solders it is a badge of honour for them.

What about using the US tech used on the Mexico/US border to spot those crossing?

5 years 9 weeks ago, 5:55 AM

charley9toe

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Interesting

Part 1)When you keep losing your lunch buddy you are probably going to become demoralized. It's a good concept as long as the brass remembers these guys are not expendable. I don't give a rats a-- if we blow up half or more of their rock pile. Harassment and Interdiction Artillery and aerial bombardment is also quite effective. Don't want those little buggars to have time to eat or sleep. One million bad guys to one good guy is still not a high enough ratio.
Part2) 50,000, 5.56MM rounds expended to one VC or NVA death in RVN; BULLSHIT. The writer of that has no clue how many rounds a normal soldier fired in anger. That is a lot of firefight without hitting something.

(You have to look behind all of that outer space stuff)
5 years 9 weeks ago, 9:38 AM

Kerryod

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Warminster

I've re-read the article above after charlie9toe's comments.

I've done what we know as 'Skill at Arms' in Warminster and it isn't or should I say 'when' I was in it wasn't oversubscribed.

I was curious about the writers of the report and here is a link to that group http://www.civicworldwide.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=...

What the hell they know of combat...do-gooders all.

this quote "Many snipers hail from farming communities, men who developed an early interest in hunting and creeping after prey undetected. "It's about stalking; we are looking for that natural hunting ability, looking for a cut above the rest," said Frank" excuse my language is the biggest load of cr*p going and a daft sterio-type, two of the best snipers I know came from Hillingdon just outside London which is urban through and through.

All I'm going to say is what does some civi American woman know about the British Army. Sorry no offence to any Americans reading this.

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