Winning the Sniper War in Iraq (page 2)
Targeting U.S. Snipers
By Maj. John L. Plaster, USAR (Ret.)
Targeting U.S. Snipers
With such impressive achievements by U.S. troops, al-Qaeda and its affiliated terror groups called upon their comrades to target U.S. sniper teams. In the first resulting incident, a sniper team from the 1st Cavalry Division led by Lt. Eric Johnson was mass-attacked at night on outpost duty near the Baghdad airport. Despite three gunshot wounds, Johnson and his men survived.
Two months later, in Ramadi, 20 miles west of Baghdad, two dozen insurgents overran a sniper position, killing four Marines and videotaping their stripped bodies for distribution to the Internet and Al Jazeera television. Later, again in Ramadi, an eight-man Marine sniper element was blasted by a remote-control bomb, killing two and seriously wounding several others. Near Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, two Marine sniper teams were ambushed and killed, again with video footage provided to Al Jazeera TV.
From one such incident arose the most highly decorated sniper team of the war. On Aug. 27, 2007, near Samarra, a four-man sniper team from the 82nd Airborne Division suddenly found its rooftop outpost mass-assaulted by 40 foreign al-Qaeda fighters. Outnumbered 10-to-one, it was a 10-minute fight for their lives, in which two paratroopers died. A year later, at Fort Bragg, N.C., President George W. Bush presented Distinguished Service Crosses—our nation’s second-highest decoration—to the two snipers who had held their ground, Sgt. Chris Corriveau, from Lewiston, Maine, and Sgt. Eric Moser, of Tomball, Texas. Together, they had accounted for an estimated 15 enemy killed, and more wounded.
The most dangerous enemy snipers proved to be the insurgents who mimicked the Washington, D.C.-area snipers who terrorized our nation’s capital in 2002 by firing from the concealment of a car. Cruising the streets of Baghdad, Mosul and other towns, these mobile sniper teams sought G.I.s manning roadside checkpoints, fixed security posts and sitting in armored vehicle cupolas. As quickly as they fired, the insurgent riflemen disappeared into urban traffic. Some sniping vehicles carried extra license plates, phony taxi markings and secret compartments for stowing a sniper rifle. Insurgent Web sites boasted that quick reaction forces arrived too late to catch them.
Because al-Qaeda paid the gunmen up to $5,000 per kill, the mobile snipers documented their engagements on videotape, the spotter serving as both observer and videographer. Soon, al-Qaeda began posting the videotaped shootings on Web sites and distributing them to foreign media. At the same time, enemy propagandists created the myth of an omnipotent sniper named Juba. Successful sniping attacks were attributed to Juba, while failures or incidents in which an insurgent sniper was killed were not. Juba was everywhere and infallible, enemy posters declared.
At the height of this propaganda offensive, I appeared on CNN International with correspondent Michael Ware. We were seen live in Baghdad. Deflating enemy claims, I dismissed Juba as a myth and pointed out the propaganda misrepresentations in insurgent videos. Two days later, upset by my comments, the al-Qaeda sniper chief in Baghdad appeared on Al Jazeera to mock me by name and boast of his snipers’ achievements.
Not long after the sniper chief uttered my name, I was invited by the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Office to a counter-sniping conference at the Pentagon where we discussed strategies and techniques to defeat the insurgent snipers. Analyzing dozens of enemy sniping videos, I’d determined that virtually all the engagements were at ground level, rarely more than 150 yards, and that most insurgent shooters were aboard vehicles, “hiding” in background clutter across busy streets, intersections and traffic circles. In almost every instance, I noted, the G.I. victims were targets of opportunity at Traffic Control Points or near halted American vehicles, and they lacked optics suitable for spotting their attackers. Already, much was being done to counter sniper attacks. Fort Meade’s Asymmetric Warfare Group prepared an excellent sniper awareness brochure to distribute in Iraq. Along with other experts, I urged the widespread distribution of optics among deployed units to better detect sniper vehicles before they fired, and a counter-tactic of not waiting for a reaction force, but immediately and aggressively rushing any sniper who fired at American forces, whether with four men or 400.