Snipers and Asymmetric Warfare in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

In January of 2008 The Captain’s Journal predicted that the so-called spring offensive by the Taliban would be more asymmetric than conventional and kinetic.  True, there have been stark reminders that the Taliban, in this case the Tehrik-i-Taliban, were capable of highly conventional and kinetic engagements, such as with the battle of Wanat.  But there have also been reminders of just how badly the Taliban lose when they choose to go head-to-head in kinetic engagements with U.S. forces, such as with recent Marine Corps operations with a kill ratio of 50:0.  True to our prediction, the Taliban has gone asymmetric.

Taliban fighters increasingly are deploying precision marksmen to fire on U.S. troops at greater distances throughout southern Afghanistan, military officials say.

It marks the latest Taliban shift to asymmetrical warfare and away from confronting U.S. troops in conventional fights, according to the top two commanders for the southern region.

Instead of gathering in company-sized units to take on foreign troops, Taliban forces also are resorting increasingly to explosives attacks and bombings, which require fewer people and pose less risk to themselves, the commanders said.

Explosives attacks rose by 33 percent last year, as did deaths of coalition troops, according to the International Security Assistance Force, which leads the coalition forces stationed here.

“They are reverting to tactics that tell us they are suffering heavy losses,” said U.S. Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the deputy commander for the southern regional command.

The expanded use of precision marksmen comes as the fighting shifts from eastern Afghanistan to the south, where the Taliban are trying to protect opium production, which is reputed to be their economic base. The number of coalition troops killed in southern Afghanistan has increased sharply in the past two months.

So far, shooters have made use of long-barrel rifles, not specialized sniper weapons, and Nicholson said there was no indication that Taliban forces had trained snipers. Instead, they take advantage of the rough terrain to shoot at troops safely from afar, he said.

If the Taliban develop a corps of snipers, it would mark a major shift for U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. When snipers began appearing in Iraq’s once-restive Anbar province in 2005, U.S. troops had a difficult time protecting themselves from attacks and began wearing more armor.

At one point, Iraqi insurgent groups began filming their sniper attacks, and the images of Marines falling to them became a rallying point for the insurgency.

Thus has the highly touted focus on high value targets and small footprint in Afghanistan come to ruin.  Satellite patrols don’t help in open terrain like they would in urban environs.  Body armor relies mainly on the SAPI plates for high power rounds, and the coverage area of the plates is fixed.

Combating snipers requires counterinsurgency practices, a larger footprint, and a true commitment to winning both the human and physical terrain.  The Taliban has learned from their conventional experiences, and while it is a sign of U.S. superiority that the Taliban has turned to sniping, it’s also a sign of Operation Enduring Freedom passing from one phase to another.  Counterinsurgency is necessary, and troops are required.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Snipers,Taliban and was published January 4th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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