I’m not a particular fan of the New York Times. Too often their reporting is so slanted to the left, it is in grave danger of falling over.
But when they managed to keep their ideological bias to a reasonable minimum, they are capable of very good reporting.
War News Updates, a daily must read, links to a NYT article, with video, that shows the effects of sniper fire on the ground in Afghanistan. It’s an interesting article, and it is balanced enough to note that while increasing numbers of marksmen on the ground makes life more dangerous for our Marines and Soldiers in the fight, it doesn’t sensationalize them into a bigger threat than they really are.
In recent months, there have been cases of better Taliban marksmen harassing American patrols and wounding and killing American troops. The operations in and near Marja were a prominent example. The phenomenon deserves closer examination, to try to gain a richer perspective than is often possible while reporting in the midst of fighting.
Let’s look at what is known.
First, what exactly is meant by “sniper”? Like many terms used to discuss war fighting, this is a slippery word. In the context of Afghan fighting, American troops tend to talk about a sniper when they encounter an insurgent rifleman who is obviously more skilled and disciplined than the norm, someone who fires with reasonable accuracy at medium and longish ranges, usually using a rifle-and-ammunition combination that can be effective out to 400 or 500 meters or more. But while the Taliban’s “snipers” are not the usual class of Kalashnikov-carrying Afghan fighter, they typically are not what a conventional soldier might think of in relation to the term.
Back in the mid 80s, when I was still a lightfighter, we routinely practiced counter-sniper drills. Those drills, while better than nothing, have been shown by practical experience to be less than wholly effective. Basically, the point of the drill was to suppress the sniper with small arms fire and 40mm grenades, and to break contact. But if a single sniper can prevent you from maneuvering to your objective, he’s accomplished his mission, whether he hits anyone or not. And you’ve failed in your mission.
Now, what the article discusses, and the video shows, isn’t really “sniper fire” as we in America usually think of it. The term of art would actually be “accurate” or “effective” small arms fire. The kind we would hope we are placing on our enemies. You’ll notice the real challenge for the Marines in the video isn’t their marksmanship, but just getting a bead on where the rifle fire is coming from. And at the end, you’ll see the problems we often encounter when we use heavier weapons to kill or suppress small arms fire.