Hunters: U.S. Snipers in the War on Terror, page 1
Table of Contents
ONE - PRE-DEPLOYMENT
TWO - AREA OF OPERATIONS: AFGHANISTAN
THREE - FIRST OF THE FIRST
FOUR - SPEC-OPS
FIVE - DUAL DEPLOYMENTS I
SIX - AREA OF OPERATIONS: IRAQ
SEVEN - REDEMPTION
EIGHT - SUNNI TRIANGLE
NINE - DUAL DEPLOYMENTS II
TEN - ROE
ELEVEN - COST OF WAR
TWELVE - BEYOND
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Copyright © 2010 Milo S. Afong
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Afong, Milo S.
Hunters : U.S. snipers in the War on Terror / Milo S. Afong.
eISBN : 978-1-101-42966-2
1. Iraq War, 2003—Personal narratives, American. 2. Afghan War, 2001—Personal narratives, American. 3. Snipers—United States—Biography. 4. Snipers—Iraq—Biography. 5. Snipers—Afghanistan—Biography. 6. United States—Armed Forces—Biography. 7. War on Terrorism, 2001—Personal narratives, American. 8. Psychology, Military—Case studies. I. Title.
To Bradford Afong.
Thanks for everything, Pops.
“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they
are won by men.”
—General George S. Patton
OVER the years, I’ve realized that most people are fascinated by snipers and the art of sniping. I think it’s because people are awe-struck with the way that snipers kill; methodically and precisely. I imagine that for the average person, taking another human’s life is beyond comprehension, and that’s why, quite often, people ask, “Have you ever killed anyone?” or “How many guys did you kill?” or “What is it like to kill someone?” These questions are a doorway into a world unfathomable to most.
Recently however, information on snipers has been revealed much more frequently. With media coverage, multiple books, and instant access to information, the image of snipers has shifted. People understand now, more than in the past, that snipers are not stoic, bloodthirsty killers, but exceptional individuals who work hard at a job most people wouldn’t want to do. Much of this information highlights the unprecedented stories of modern snipers in battle, but impressive tales of snipers are not something new.
The unique history of snipers in combat has cultivated legendary tales, such as the duel between Russian sniper Vasily Zaytsev against the German sniper Heinz Thorvald in the city of Stalingrad during World War II. Let’s not forget one of the most respected Marine snipers ever to use a rifle, Chuck Mawhinney, in Vietnam, with 103 confirmed kills and 216 unconfirmed. There are other examples of selfless snipers who knowingly sacrificed their lives—reports like that of Army Special Forces snipers Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart, who went to the aid of a downed helicopter surrounded by hundreds of militants in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. Both men were posthumously rewarded with the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
Today, snipers in this War on Terror are also gaining recognition. Since the United States was forced into this conflict with a new enemy, we’ve learned that this enemy is fanatical and beyond negotiations. He has no regard for innocent lives and hopes to use fear as his primary weapon. Surely, no matter how we combat him it is always a struggle, but judging from all accounts, there is a weapon we possess that cripples and terrifies him. This weapon is a man with a long rifle, known as a sniper.
The following pages detail the real-life stories of snipers in the War on Terror. From service to service, these snipers may wear different uniforms, use different weapons, and have different customs, but their mentality and the result of their actions are the same. In this war, the military sniper has moved ahead by leaps and bounds in his tactics and equipment, but it is still the man behind the rifle who must face his enemy head-on. In this new chapter in history, it would be a shame if the lives and actions of such warriors went unwritten. This is the reason for Hunters.
IN the War on Terror, no other weapon strikes more fear into the enemy than a sniper. From the crowded streets in Iraq to the dusty cliffs of Afghanistan these masters of precision are extremely lethal against any fighter and in any environment. In Iraq, al-Qaeda members, fearful of U.S. snipers’ ability to strike from nowhere, have issued orders to target snipers first, while elsewhere snipers have completely demoralized entire militias by isolating and neutralizing enemy fighters hiding among large crowds. In Afghanistan, long-range precision fire has brought death to the doorstep of Taliban and other fighters who believe that sheer distance is protection.
The operators in today’s U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps sniper communities are the best. Earning the title of sniper in each service is no easy task, and those who are snipers have been tried and proven before receiving the privilege of employing the esteemed long rifle. But what does it take to become a member of this prestigious profession, and what skills are needed to operate as a military sniper?
Surprisingly, there is no specific mold for an individual in this trade. Often, people assume snipers to be backwoods folks born with a rifle and raised on hunting. Sure, there are a lot of country boys who become good snipers, but there are also plenty of city boys who wield the long gun, and good ones at that.
Ultimately, snipers are a collective mix. They originate from all walks of life and are as differ
Just as in any elite organization, sniper programs look for individuals with exceptional abilities before accepting them into the community. Potential sniper candidates need certain qualities, not only for success in some of the hardest training that the military has to offer—sniper training—but also to flourish in real world combat operations. During screening, selection, and sniper school, candidates are examined for these particular qualities.
By far the first and most fundamental quality needed to become a sniper is heart. Heart is the drive behind never quitting under any circumstance. Unfortunately, this quality cannot be taught, but it is highly sought after in individuals. In the infantry, when units hold selections and senior snipers examine new candidates, they search for this trait right away. During physical training it may seem that those who finish first will be selected. It will happen, but senior snipers would rather choose individuals who try their hardest all the time. They know that physical conditioning can be improved, shooting and tactics can be taught, but a person either has the inherent will to succeed or doesn’t. Period.
Another quality needed is self-discipline. This involves many aspects but the first is good behavior. Sniper units screen individual service record books for bad behavior. This can automatically disqualify a candidate. The second aspect of self-discipline is one that every sniper must continually improve, and that is great physical conditioning. One Marine sniper, Sergeant Joseph Morales, explains why this is one of the first qualities needed:It was my first deployment in 2000, and I was a boot. I wanted to become a sniper as soon as I joined the unit, but I knew that I needed more training and experience. I knew that it was going to be physically demanding when I heard senior Marines, who weren’t even trying out, talking about all the strenuous activity involved.
Within two weeks I knew what they were talking about when I found myself covering endless amounts of distances and scaling a fifty-foot cliff with an eighty-pound pack on my back and my weapon in one hand. This definitely pushed my body to the limit, and it was just the beginning. I figured that if I was to become a sniper I needed to train my body to endure anything.
Intelligence is also desired and is needed to learn the tremendous amount of information presented to snipers. Good judgment and common sense also come into this equation. Operating several different communication devices, cameras, and high-powered optics; knowledge of ballistics, ammunition, range formulas, rifles, the procedures for calling supporting arms and close air support, land navigation, mission planning, collecting intelligence, and enemy weapons capabilities are just some of the job requirements.
Two types of maturity are also important for a sniper. Emotional maturity is needed to cope with the strain and violence associated with sniping. It takes strong individuals to constantly risk their lives and set aside their emotions while considering factors such as death and physical pain. Professional maturity is just as imperative. Snipers must be able to report to and brief commanders in several areas. Tactical employment, full use of a team’s capabilities, mission planning, coordination with supported units, and directing air or ground support are essentials. In doing any of these activities, a sniper represents his team and its capabilities in the highest fashion. This gains trust for further operations. On the flip side, if a commander loses trust in his snipers, it is not unheard of for him to cease all sniper operations.
Mental stability is also needed to deal with killing. Units screen against empty-headed and heartless killers and also for those just the opposite, troops who are deemed too soft for the job. Programs do not accept those who believe that if they were behind a sniper rifle, they’d kill everyone in sight. That is not the job of a sniper and that mentality is dangerous to everyone.
On the other hand, killing is part of the job. Fundamentally, the role of a sniper is to deliver death—meaning that the man behind the rifle has to squeeze the trigger when it is called for. The power to take another man’s life is a heavy responsibility, and snipers must be mentally prepared for the act.
Finally, potential snipers need to be proficient with the service rifle. Clearly, sniper units only accept individuals with expert rifle qualifications. This demands that potential candidates have a strong grasp of the basic shooting techniques needed, so that more advanced methods can be built on.
These qualities are just a few of many that potential snipers should have if they want to learn the trade of sniping.
Learning the Trade
Individuals wanting to become snipers are drawn to many aspects of the trade. The independence of small teams and the ability to be self-reliant are huge reasons people go into this field. Being able to target the enemy with little chance of detection, use advanced weapons and equipment, and learn superior tactics are also benefits. Whatever the motivation may be, potential snipers should be aware that learning the trade is a long, tough journey.
In the world of Special Operations, sniper qualification is merely one skill among many. The U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps each have particular units that fall under America’s tip of the spear, the United States Special Operations Command or USSOCOM. Within this group, each unit employs its own snipers and what is distinctive about being a qualified sniper here is that the men are able to use their skill when the situation is called upon, but they aren’t strictly limited to sniping alone.
U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers, or Green Berets, are excellent soldiers and snipers, to say the least. Passing the U.S. Special Forces qualification course is next to impossible, and operating as a member of an ODA or Operational Detachment Alpha, Special Forces A-team member is even harder, so to become a sniper among one of these teams is truly exceptional. To become one, an SF soldier must have consistent expert qualifications with a service rifle. From there, a psychological exam is given to ensure potential candidates are mentally ready for the repercussions of the job. As Green Berets are drawn from many fields, some soldiers arrive to an A-Team having already been sniper qualified through the regular Army’s basic scout/sniper course.
Those in A-Teams who need sniper qualification attend SOTIC. This is the U.S. Army Special Forces eight-week course known as the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course. In this highly prestigious course, soldiers are taught the basics of sniping without the physical repercussions and consequences enforced in the conventional Army sniper schools. Typically, the students are Green Berets, though the doors have been opened to Army Rangers and regular Joes.
U.S. Navy SEALs also have in-house sniper training. To be considered for sniper training, SEALs must have an expert rifle qualification from the regular Navy’s shooting course, usually two deployments as a “team guy” in a SEAL platoon, and a recommendation by the platoon chief or commander. Once the blessing is received, SEALs attend a twelve-week course.
The sniper school is based out of Coronado, California. Here, SEALs learn much of the same skills as those in other services schools. One factor in which SEAL sniper schools differ from their counterparts, though, is the amount of technology involved in learning sniping. With a heavy emphasis in reconnaissance and surveillance, SEAL snipers must master techniques for collecting and reporting information. This is taught in the first two weeks of sniper school, where students learn an in-depth use of cameras and computers along with intricate techniques of employment and enhancement with their tools.
The next ten weeks is broken into two phases. First is the four-week scout phase, where students learn everything from urban hides, to the use of ghillie suits and stalking, as well as traditional sniper skills such as Keep in Memory or KIM games. The final six weeks are when snipers master the art of shooting. This incorporates three different weapons systems.
Another unique aspect that SEAL sniper train
Becoming a SEAL sniper is one of the hardest routes in the Navy, with a 70 percent fail rate at Basic Underwater Demolition/ SEAL training, and another 50 percent fail rate at SEAL sniper school. Very few individuals ever become SEAL snipers.
The operators from Marine Corps Special Operations Battalions, or MSOB, are given the chance to become snipers after finishing the basic reconnaissance course and a few other military occupational specialty essential schools. Special Operations Marines are selected to attend the basic scout/sniper course after having qualified expert with the service rifle, completed at least one deployment, and receiving a recommendation from his platoon sergeant. However, as it is with Army Special Forces, many Marines join the ranks of MSOB having already served as snipers in the infantry.
Marines already sniper qualified in MSOB can attend another sniper course. It is known as MASC or Marine Special Operations Forces Advanced Sniper Course. One instructor explains the difference between this course and the basic scout/sniper school:The basic course teaches basic skills that build a sniper from scratch. Our course takes those basic skills, introduces new concepts, ballistic software, and equipment, and enhances those skills to fit more of a rapid target engagement environment. The techniques we teach are applicable to any environment, long or short range, urban or rural, and although there is training in an urban setting, a good portion of the instruction is taught on the range, shooting at various targets and distances. While the end result of a qualified urban sniper is similar, we do not delve into the surveillance and reconnaissance aspect of sniping. We focus on enhancing the sniper’s understanding of engagement techniques, and his proficiency in those techniques.