Archive for the 'Snipers' Category

Snipers and Asymmetric Warfare in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 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.

The Sniper Threat and USA Today Hit Piece

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 8 months ago

IEDs have received their due attention, but with the exception of web sites like this one, sniper attacks have been somewhat overlooked in the press in terms of troop risk and force protection.  The Department of Defense knows about the risk, and has requested supplemental funding to decrease the risk for fiscal year 2008.

The dangers from enemy sniper attacks have increased steadily during the past year, with the number of attacks quadrupling. These attacks have not only caused numerous casualties, but have had an adverse psychological effect on both Coalition forces and the Iraqi civilian populace. Victims in sniper incidents have a fatality rate of over 70 percent. A shift in enemy tactics that increases the number of sniper attacks could potentially inflict even more casualties than IEDs. To guard against such a shift, the Amendment includes $1.4 billion for a full suite of counter-sniper capabilities designed to prevent, survive, and react to sniper attacks. This includes enhanced optics, soldier protection, active sniper defeat systems, sensors, concealment, and development of new tactics.

Tens of millions of people were walking to work a few days after this was released and glanced over at the newspaper stands seeing USA Today charge the Pentagon with falsification of data regarding the sniper threat in Iraq.

The Pentagon has asked Congress for $1.4 billion in emergency spending to combat a growing threat of sniper attacks in Iraq based on an overstated assessment of the extent of the attacks, its records show.

In last week’s spending request, the Pentagon said sniper attacks have quadrupled in the past year and, if unchecked, the attacks could eclipse roadside bombs as the top killer of U.S. troops. However, the rate of sniper attacks has dropped slightly in 2007 and fallen dramatically in the past four months, according to military records given to USA TODAY.

Pentagon officials acknowledged the mistake Monday after questions about the data were raised by USA TODAY.

“The term quadrupled will be removed from the justification because it is simply incorrect,” said Dave Patterson, deputy undersecretary of Defense.

In 2006, there were 386 sniper attacks on coalition forces, according to data from the Multi-National Force-Iraq headquarters in Iraq. Through Oct. 26 of this year, there were 269 sniper attacks, the figures show.

Noah Shachtman at Danger Room responded to his initial discussion of this with nevermind, and various left leaning blogs jumped on the opportunity to charge the Pentagon with dishonesty.  But should Noah have stuck to his guns, and do the left leaning blogs have something to crow about?  The answer is certainly not nevermind.

Spook at In From the Cold has an interesting analysis of the data given to USA Today.

First, let’s examine the so-called “rate of attacks” cited by the paper. In 2007, the military reported 386 sniper attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, an average of just over one per day. Through 26 October of this year, there have been 269 sniper attacks, an average of less than one a day. But the paper also acknowledges that there has been a dramatic drop over the last four months–without acknowledging the apparent reason for the decrease, i.e., the troop surge (emphasis mine). Mistake #1.

USA Today’s second error is failing to compute the surge’s impact on the decrease in sniper attacks. Without the drop that occurred between July and October, what would the numbers look like? While it’s highly unlikely that the difference would equal a four-fold increase, it is reasonable to assume that without the surge (and the recent drop in violence), the number of sniper attacks would be on pace with last year’s total–or perhaps slightly higher. That would provide additional justification for sniper mitigation programs.

This is true, and while it calls into question the USA Today model for understanding the data, and while it is tempting to go down this analysis rabbit trail, it neglects the fundamental flaws in the article.  Consider the number again: 269 sniper attacks.  So precisely what constitutes a sniper attack, according to the Multinational Force data?  Deaths of U.S. servicemen is routinely reported as something like “Multinational Force West forces attacked,” for example.  If attacks means deaths or casualties, then the data necessitates consideration of a host of things other than sniper risk, such as the success of the surge, overall success of Operation Iraqi Freedom, combat operations, both planned and intelligence-driven, etc.  Any Soldier or Marine in a hot spot in Iraq knows that the value of 269 doesn’t come close to representing the number of shots taken by an individual Platoon or Company during deployment, much less the entirety of the U.S. forces in Iraq.  This number is so low that even the USA Today reporter should have questioned the use of it to prove anything, much less the extent of the sniper threat in Iraq.

Moreover, while it is easy to define an IED, we may ask the question “how do we define a sniper attack?”  Would the definition of “fire received from a position of concealment with U.S. forces lacking positive identification (PID) of the enemy” suffice?  If so, then the vast majority of small arms fire in Iraq is sniper fire, at least initially, given the military operations on urban terrain (MOUT).

Semantics cloud the issue and precise definitions elude us.  It is simple enough to parse U.S. risk into two cause categories: IEDs and small arms fire (whether they immediately redound to casualties or not).  The Department of Defense, although lethargic to respond, now has a robust program of MRAPs and other equipment to address the IED problem.  While there are various gadgets that the DoD is investigating, the solution to the sniper problem seems to have three avenues of approach: time, distance and shielding.  Distance is a difficult tactic to leverage to our advantage, since urban terrain presents the closest combat operations anywhere on earth.  The two remaining avenues are time and shielding.

Time may be dealt with at the tactical level by maneuvers such as satellite patrols, modifications and variations on satellite patrols, rapid movement, concealment, etc.  But regardless of how small a Soldier or Marine makes himself, small arms fire is a difficult problem, and as we have covered here, shooters have learned to aim for areas not covered by ceramic ballistic plates (head, neck, and armpits just above the side ESAPI plate, especially if it is sagging because of being hung with Molle straps).  Terry Nickelson, previously embedded with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, reported recently from Fallujah.

Movement – and staying behind cover — is the best defense against snipers.  They dash across intersections and run across fields and vacant lots filled with rubble all the while zigging and zagging, bobbing and weaving, and turning and pivoting to make themselves as difficult targets as possible.  With all the extra movement – and weight – crossing a 100 meter vacant lot can become a 200 meter broken field lung-burster …

It was during a similar patrol a week or so earlier that a Marine from Golf Company was on the roof of a similar house and — with a sudden,  small spark as a bullet flew through the back of his kevlar helmet —  was killed.  According to his friends, he was what he wanted to be – a Marine …

One insurgent sniper has a signature shot: the bullet piercing both the neck and the mouth of his targets.  He is credited with several kills.  Intelligence officers believe that a rogue American has trained him and other insurgents.

Body armor is heavy, and an Australian soldier was recently killed in Afghanistan because the mission stipulated quick maneuverability.  Shielding requires that the warrior wear the armor, and it requires maneuverability, something suffering under the weight of 32 pounds of armor with the current system.  Moreover, ballistic plate coverage needs to be larger, but this requires investment and research in order to keep the weight down so that the warrior can physically move in the battlespace.

And thus we are back to where we started.  In order to formulate an article on funding for countersniper measures, USA Today likely threatened to complete the paperwork for a freedom of information act request.  They summed a few numbers supplied by Multinational Force command, and proceeded to craft a hit piece to put in front of millions of people.  Yet the definitions are imprecise, the data close to meaningless, and the article is without research.  The author of the article has likely never worn body armor, or taken fire from a concealed location, or stepped into a street filled with fire to run for the next domicile, or stood on the roof of a house firing a squad automatic weapon to provide suppressing fire for his fire team or squad to escape danger.

The article’s author – Tom Vanden Brook – knows nothing of being in the line of fire.  It would be appropriate for him to grab a camera, put on some body armor, and report from the field before he implies that U.S. warriors are not suffering from a “sniper” problem or that funds are not needed.  Even if the Pentagon goofed on the data (which we have stated to be irrelevant to the case in point), fire from concealment will be a problem into the future not only in Iraq, but in the forgotten war, Afghanistan.  In the mean time, the USA Today article is worthless until Tom goes into the field to get his facts straight.


TCJ, Snipers.

TCJ, Body Armor.

The End of Snipers

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 10 months ago

In Concerning Snipers, Rules of Engagement and General Kearney, we discussed sniping being mainly an offensive operation, a notion fairly well removed from the framework of rules for the use of force and rules of engagement which focus on force escalation and allowable responses for self defense and force protection.  The Washington Post published an article today that is sure to turn heads and educe the righteous indignation of the establishment.

A Pentagon group has encouraged some U.S. military snipers in Iraq to target suspected insurgents by scattering pieces of “bait,” such as detonation cords, plastic explosives and ammunition, and then killing Iraqis who pick up the items, according to military court documents.

The classified program was described in investigative documents related to recently filed murder charges against three snipers who are accused of planting evidence on Iraqis they killed.

“Baiting is putting an object out there that we know they will use, with the intention of destroying the enemy,” Capt. Matthew P. Didier, the leader of an elite sniper scout platoon attached to the 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment, said in a sworn statement. “Basically, we would put an item out there and watch it. If someone found the item, picked it up and attempted to leave with the item, we would engage the individual as I saw this as a sign they would use the item against U.S. Forces.”

From a tactical standpoint, this would seem to be a fairly dubious approach, meaning that we cannot see a way to gauge success (perhaps an insurgent is picking up the weapons for the purpose of harm to U.S. forces, or perhaps rather than an insurgent, he is the head of a family picking up ammunition for the purpose of use with the single AK-47 he is allowed to have for self and home defense – how would we know?).  However, here at TCJ, we smell a rat.  Will enlisted men and lower level officers go down for programs born and nurtured way above their rank?

In documents obtained by The Washington Post from family members of the accused soldiers, Didier said members of the U.S. military’s Asymmetric Warfare Group visited his unit in January and later passed along ammunition boxes filled with the “drop items” to be used “to disrupt the AIF [Anti-Iraq Forces] attempts at harming Coalition Forces and give us the upper hand in a fight” …

Soldiers said that about a dozen platoon members were aware of the program, and that numerous others knew about the “drop items” but did not know their purpose. Two soldiers who had not been officially informed about the program came forward with allegations of wrongdoing after they learned they were going to be punished for falling asleep on a sniper mission, according to the documents.

Army officials declined to discuss the classified program, details of which appear in unclassified investigative documents and in transcripts of court testimony. Criminal investigators wrote that they found materials related to the program in a white cardboard box and an ammunition can at the sniper unit’s base.

“We don’t discuss specific methods targeting enemy combatants,” said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. “The accused are charged with murder and wrongfully placing weapons on the remains of Iraqi nationals. There are no classified programs that authorize the murder of local nationals and the use of ‘drop weapons’ to make killings appear legally justified.”

There is the rat that stunk so badly, served up to us from an “Army spokesman.”  Of course there are no programs authorizing the “murder” of local nationals.  Sniping the enemy is not murder.  The responsible low level officer explained exactly the purpose of the weapons, i.e., as “bait.”  Whether this is an effective approach can be debated (we called it dubious).  But the argument has been framed by the “Army spokesman” in a way that presupposes that no one in higher levels of leadership would have approved this and thus these men concocted the tactic all on their own.  It must be the fault of the lower ranking officers and enlisted men, the “spokesman” implies.

As for placing items near the bodies of alleged insurgents to justify kills, the story gets somewhat murky.

Spec. Jorge Sandoval and Staff Sgt. Michael Hensley are accused by the military of placing a spool of wire into the pocket of an Iraqi man Sandoval had shot on April 27 on Hensley’s order. The man had been cutting grass with a rusty sickle when he was shot, according to court documents.

The military alleges that the killing of the man carrying the sickle was inappropriate. Hensley and Sandoval have been charged with murder and with planting evidence.

As Sandoval and Hensley approached the corpse, according to testimony and court documents, they allegedly placed a spool of wire, often used by insurgents to detonate roadside bombs, into the man’s pocket in an attempt to make the case for the kill ironclad.

One soldier who came forward with the allegations, Pfc. David C. Petta, told the same court that he believed the classified items were for dropping on people the unit had killed, “to enforce if we killed somebody that we knew was a bad guy but we didn’t have the evidence to show for it.” Petta had not been officially briefed about the program.

In The Sniper of Tarmiyah, we advocated distributed operations and latitude for snipers to engage insurgents even if they were not brandishing a weapon or actively engaged in hostilities (this leaves a significant amount of latitude to the shooter and his NCOs who need to be trained to make these judgments).  So under our schema, the “evidence” would never have been necessary and thus would not have been “planted.”  To be clearer, while at TCJ we doubt the effectiveness of a plan that baits insurgents due to lack of certainty of who has been killed, we support the idea of snipers being given latitude to shoot outside of the strictures of self defense.

The Pentagon doesn’t buy into our schema, and so we are left with snipers feeling as though they need to “justify” kills in order to save themselves from prosecution.  In the end, who will pay for this program?

Vela’s father, Curtis Carnahan, said he thinks the military is rushing the cases and is holding the proceedings in a war zone to shield facts from the U.S. public.

“It’s an injustice that is being done to them,” Carnahan said. “I feel like you can’t prosecute our soldiers for acts of war and threaten them with years and years of confinement when this program, if it comes to the light of day, was clearly coming from higher levels. . . . All those people who said ‘go use this stuff’ just disappeared, like they never sanctioned it.”

Certainly not the brass.  Let’s be clear here about what is happening.  In Concerning Snipers, Rules of Engagement and General Kearney, we provided a link to the book White Feather, the authorized biography of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock who had 93 confirmed sniping kills in the Vietnam war, more than any other in military history, and who to this day serves as an inspiration from the grave for all new sniper trainees in the Army and Marines.

Carlos Hathcock is the shining example of distributed operations.  He was alone in the field for long periods of time, his decisions were tried and true, his investment in the kill extreme, and his knowledge of the enemy impeccable.  This is the model for sniping, and as a military tactic, it brings risk – and conversely, very high payoff.

While not all snipers will be equivalent to Carlos Hathcock (perhaps none will), the problem is that we are witnessing the end of sniping as a military tactic.  The rules of engagement prevent targeting the enemy in Iraq or Afghanistan if they do not fall within the precise stipulations (e.g., self defense, engaged in hostile acts, etc.).  Within the current framework, we may as well end the sniper schools and rely on standard service rifle training of infantry.  The number of sniping kills due to defensive operations doesn’t justify the expense of the schools.

The military establishment knows that many of the kills by past snipers such as Carlos Hathcock did not meet these stipulations.  They know that there has been a sea change in the cultural acceptability of these necessary military tactics, and use of them – or failure to punish people who use them – could be career-ending for top brass.  In this case, the top brass is running for cover and the lower ranks are left hanging out to dry, even when their plans were approved by top brass.  Carlos Hathcock may have been heroic and an interesting and admirable artifact of military history, but sadly, his day is coming to an end.

Concerning Snipers, Rules of Engagement and General Kearney

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 10 months ago

Problem Statement

From all appearances, two more soldiers will be in military court defending their actions in battle due to the current rules of engagement – or [mis]application of them.  From the New York Times:

FORT BRAGG, N.C., Sept. 17 — From his position about 100 yards away, Master Sgt. Troy Anderson had a clear shot at the Afghan man standing outside a residential compound in a village near the Pakistan border last October. When Capt. Dave Staffel, the Special Forces officer in charge, gave the order to shoot, Sergeant Anderson fired a bullet into the man’s head, killing him.

In June, Captain Staffel and Sergeant Anderson were charged with premeditated murder. On Tuesday, in a rare public examination of the rules that govern the actions of Special Operations troops in Afghanistan, a military hearing will convene at Fort Bragg to weigh the evidence against the two men, both Green Berets.

The case revolves around differing interpretations of the kind of force that the Special Forces team that hunted and killed the man, Nawab Buntangyar, were allowed to use once they found him, apparently unarmed.

To the Special Forces soldiers and their 12-man detachment, the shooting, near the village of Ster Kalay, was a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement. They said those rules allowed the killing of Mr. Buntangyar, whom the American Special Operations Command here has called an “enemy combatant.

Mosques, Snipers and Rules of Engagement

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 11 months ago

Michael Totten is in Baghdad, and while his (most recent) entire report is both interesting and highly worth reading, I want to focus in on the following words:

“They have a little bunker up there,

The Anbar Province Reconsidered

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 7 months ago

In Where is Anbar Headed? Where are the Marines Headed?, I cited the ABC News Report that claimed that the Pentagon officials were considering a major pullback of Marines from the Anbar Province, due in part to the most recent Devlin intelligence report covered by the Washington Post.  Michael Fumento notes that the Post article stands in stark contrast to his recent experiences as an embedded reporter in Ramadi.  I said in “Where is Anbar Headed” that it looked like the U.S. was either getting out of Anbar or getting serious about Anbar.

Today General Peter Pace denied reports that the Pentagon was considering a movement of Marines out of the Anbar province.  Asked specifically whether serious consideration is being given to the idea of abandoning Al-Anbar to put more U.S. forces in Baghdad, Pace bluntly replied “no.”  “You gave me a very straight question. I gave you a very straight answer. No. Why would we want to forfeit any part of Iraq to the enemy? We don’t,” he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

I believe that it is important to keep balance with respect to our understanding of the Anbar Province.  Assuming that Pace is correct and that conditions and intentions don’t change, the U.S. will not abandon Anbar.  I have discussed the alignment of some of the tribes in the Anbar Province with the Iraqi government and against al Qaeda, but it is also clear that these tribes cannot secure Anbar without the help of Iraqi security forces and more particularly U.S. forces.

In Coalition, Al Qaeda and Tribes Battle in Anbar and Diyala, I covered the recent battles against al Qaeda in which tribal elements participated.

On November 25, insurgents linked to al Qaeda attacked an Anbar tribe in an alliance of twenty five tribes who have vowed to fight al Qaeda.  The insurgents attacked the Abu Soda tribe in Sofiya, near the provincial capital of Ramadi, with mortars and small arms, burning homes, in apparent revenge for their support of the Iraqi government.  “Al Qaeda has decided to attack the tribes due to their support,

Where is Anbar Headed? Where are the Marines Headed?

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 7 months ago

John Little has given us a tip to a breaking story about potential movement of the Marines out of Anbar altogether.  This is major … major … news.  ABC News is reporting the following (I will copy and paste at length, and then offer up [I hope] some interesting … and unique … observations):

ABC News has learned that Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move U.S. forces out of the dangerous Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province and join the fight to secure Baghdad.

The news comes as President Bush prepares to meet with Iraq’s president to discuss the growing sectarian violence.

There are now 30,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar, mainly Marines, braving some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. At least 1,055 Americans have been killed in this region, making al-Anbar the deadliest province for American troops.

The region is a Sunni stronghold and the main base of operations for al Qaeda in Iraq and has been a place of increasing frustration to U.S. commanders.

In a recent intelligence assessment, top Marine in al-Anbar, Col. Peter Devlin, concluded that without a massive infusement of more troops, the battle in al-Anbar is unwinnable.

In the memo, first reported by the Washington Post, Devlin writes, “Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Faced with that situation in al-Anbar, and the desperate need to control Iraq’s capital, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace is considering turning al-Anbar over to Iraqi security forces and moving U.S. troops from there into Baghdad.

“If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out [in al-Anbar], what’s the point of having them out there?” said a senior military official.

Another option under consideration is to increase the overall U.S. troop level in Iraq by two to five brigades (that’s about 7,000 to 18,000 troops).

Generals Casey and Abizaid, however, have both weighed in against this idea. And such an increase would only be sustainable for six to eight months. Far more likely, the official says, will be a repositioning of forces currently in Iraq. “There is a push for a change of footprint, not more combat power.”

In Racoon Hunting and the Battle for Anbar, after the Marines had said that Fallujah held iconic status to them, and losing it would be like losing Iwo Jima, I asked the question, “Will we lose this hallowed soil, this soil on which so much U.S. blood has been shed?”

Perhaps.  And then perhaps not.  There are two possibilities that I see.  Either we have ceded power to al Qaeda and asked the Iraqi security forces to take them out, or we are cordoning off the area, only to go in later to “clear” it.  On October 24, I said that we would not “clear” Ramadi Fallujah-style, and at the time I had what I thought were good reasons to take this position.

I believe that there is some possibility, however remote it may seem to the reader (and to me), that we are cordoning off the Anbar Province (and in particular Ramadi), in order to prepare an assault later “Fallujah-style.”  More Marine patrols where they are getting sniper attacks is not adding to security.  We are either getting out, or we’re getting serious.

I confess, I am at a point of indecision on this, because I think the military brass may be.  It might be left to the incoming SECDEF to make the decision.  More force projection, or do we turn it over to the Iraqis?

The war turns on this decision.

Unleash the Snipers!

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 8 months ago

Of course, military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) are difficult, and have always been problematic to not only U.S. forces, but military forces around the world.  But with the canyon-like walls, cave-like rooms, and noise-reverberating qualities of sprawling urban areas, one would think that the U.S. military had at least developed a point of doctrine regarding snipers.  There is no doctrine, so there can be no strategy, and thus there are no tactics to address this threat – Herschel Smith, November 9, 2006

U.S. Sniper Nest

U.S. Sniper Nest in Karma, Iraq, Courtesy of the New York Times

I have long been a follower of the use of snipers, Carlos Hathcock probably being the premier shooter in the history of snipers.  It was with great chagrin that I wrote Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops.  This post followed the tragic tale of insurgent snipers and their work in Iraq, primarily in Sunni controlled areas (although also present in Baghdad and beyond).

The insurgents lose every stand-up fight in which they engage U.S. troops, so they have transitioned to asymmeteric warfare, shooting from positions of concealment, and learning the weaknesses of the body armor worn by the U.S.  More particularly, the insurgents have learned to aim for unprotected parts of Marines and Soldiers, specifically, the head, neck and armpits (the later due to the fact that there are definite gaps in the SAPI plates, or Small Arms Protective Inserts, along the lateral torso, an issue I covered in Snipers and Body Armor).

This post took on a life of its own, and comments ranged from the hint to “destroy everything” to the implication that “there isn’t anything we can do about it because all of your suggestions will fail.”  So it might be helpful to rehearse the core of my recommendations for dealing with the insurgent snipers.

The Unites States Marine Corps is the only branch of the military in the world which requires qualification with the rifle at 500 yards.  Urban areas don’t have distance considerations that require snipers on the level of Carlos Hathcock.  Each and every Marine should be able to operate as a sniper — or a countersniper … If there are regularly scheduled combat patrols that allow the snipers to plan their activities, these schedules should be changed, and changed again, and then again.  If the sniper and his spotter are known to be in an area, Marines should be dispatched in night time operations to find concealment from which they can then observe enemy movements the next day, or two, or three.  This last suggestion is the most radical, since it involves the breakup of squads and possibly even fire teams, and the decentralization of command and control.  Further, there is the problem of training.  Only a few Marines have been trained to be “Recon

Snipers Having Tragic Success Against U.S. Troops

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 8 months ago

Sun Tzu, “The Art of War,” III.26: “He who understands how to use both large and small forces will be victorious.”  Tu Yu comments, “There are circumstances in war when many cannot attack few, and others when the weak can master the strong.”

Courtesy of New York Times: Sgt. Jesse E. Leach of the Marines assisted Lance Cpl. Juan Valdez-Castillo, who was shot by a sniper in the town of Karma.  He survived.

Courtesy of New York Times: Sgt. Jesse E. Leach of the Marines assisted Lance Cpl. Juan Valdez-Castillo, who was shot by a sniper in the town of Karma. He survived.


The insurgents in Iraq for some time had relied on stand-off weapons to do their warfare (i.e., IEDs).  With the influx of the more well-trained al-Qaeda fighters across the Syrian and Jordanian borders, these tactics have given way to guerrilla tactics.  Every stand-up battle in which the insurgents engage the U.S. troops involves a loss for the insurgents, sometimes significant.  It has taken time for the evolution to occur, but the change to asymmetric warfare seems to be about complete.

On June 21, 2006, Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Whyte died from sniper fire in the streets of Ramadi.  On September 26, 2006, Marine PFC Christopher T. Riviere died in the Anbar Province from sniper fire while wearing full body armor.  On October 8, 2006, Marine Captain Robert Secher died from sniper fire.  On October 22, 2006, Specialists Nathaniel Aguirre and Matthew Creed, US Army, died from sniper fire while on foot patrol in Baghdad (see also a North County Times article on Creed).  There is no shortage of personal stories on fatalities from sniper fire, but stepping back from the personal to the statistical, there is no question that sniper attacks have increased in both frequency and lethality.

Sniper attacks on U.S. troops have risen dramatically as more Americans have been pulled into the capital to patrol on foot and in lightly armored vehicles amid raging religious violence.  Sniper attacks, generally defined as one or two well-aimed shots from a distance, have totaled 36 so far this month in Baghdad, according to U.S. military statistics.

That’s up from 23 such attacks in September and 11 in January.

The figures were confirmed by Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. “The total numbers are elevated, and the effectiveness has been greater,” he said.

At least eight of the 36 sniper attacks in Baghdad in October have been fatal, according to accounts by hometown newspapers reporting on the deaths of individual soldiers and Marines. Snipers have also killed four U.S. servicemembers in Anbar province this month.


The picture above visually conveys the story of the sniper attack that wounded Lance Cpl. Juan Valdez-Castillo.

The bullet passed through Lance Cpl. Juan Valdez-Castillo as his Marine patrol moved down a muddy urban lane. It was a single shot. The lance corporal fell against a wall, tried to stand and fell again.

His squad leader, Sgt. Jesse E. Leach, faced where the shot had come from, raised his rifle and grenade launcher and quickly stepped between the sniper and the bloodied marine. He walked backward, scanning, ready to fire.

Shielding the marine with his own thick body, he grabbed the corporal by a strap and dragged him across a muddy road to a line of tall reeds, where they were concealed. He put down his weapon, shouted orders and cut open the lance corporal’s uniform, exposing a bubbling wound.

Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo, shot through the right arm and torso, was saved. But the patrol was temporarily stuck. The marines were engaged in the task of calling for a casualty evacuation while staring down their barrels at dozens of windows that faced them, as if waiting for a ghost’s next move.

This sequence on Tuesday here in Anbar Province captured in a matter of seconds an expanding threat in the war in Iraq. In recent months, military officers and enlisted marines say, the insurgents have been using snipers more frequently and with greater effect, disrupting the military’s operations and fueling a climate of frustration and quiet rage.

The New York Times article goes on to say that “across Iraq, the threat has become serious enough that in late October the military held an internal conference about it, sharing the experiences of combat troops and discussing tactics to counter it. There has been no ready fix.  The battalion commander of Sergeant Leach’s unit — the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines — recalled eight sniper hits on his marines in three months and said there had been other possible incidents as well. Two of the battalion’s five fatalities have come from snipers, he said, and one marine is in a coma. Another marine gravely wounded by a sniper has suffered a stroke.”

I have covered the weaknesses in the Interceptor body armor system with its gaps in protection along the lateral torso.  The insurgent snipers have become quite sophisticated in their tactics.  They have become disciplined shots, as this chilling quote by elements of the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines indicates: “Most of the time, the marines said, the snipers aim for their heads, necks and armpits, displaying knowledge of gaps in their protective gear.

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