Thus, thousands of additional guardian angels with rifles arrived in Iraq to support their units and add more scoped rifles to the nationwide sniper hunt. In a classic case, a 1st Cavalry Division sniper, Staff Sgt. Jeff Young, exploited the sun’s shifting rays to pinpoint a hidden Iraqi sniper. “We got lucky when the sun was going down,” he told Stars and Stripes. “It hit his scope at the right angle and we got a glare in our direction so we engaged it.”
Another Army sniper, Sgt. Randall Davis, twice defeated opposing snipers, engaging them from a rooftop in Samarra. Firing an accurized M14 rifle, he patiently out-waited an Iraqi sniper who had fired upon Americans three days earlier. When the Iraqi reappeared, Davis’ keen eyes picked him out. Davis eliminated another Iraqi sniper with a 750-yard shot with a Barrett .50-cal. rifle.
Some snipers defeated enemy snipers well beyond their “book” maximum range. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jim Gilliland scored the longest counter-sniper engagement in Iraq with a 7.62x51 mm NATO rifle. When Gilliland and his spotter, Sgt. Bryan Pruett, learned an insurgent sniper had shot a fellow G.I., they focused their optics on a hospital a dozen blocks away. Detecting the insurgent in a window, the distance was so great,375 yards—that Gilliland had to set his scope’s elevation to maximum and still hold high to make the hit. Gilliland and his 10-man Shadow Team were credited with shooting 276 insurgents, with more than 50 felled by Gilliland, alone.
Conventional infantrymen, too, took their toll by aggressively reacting to insurgent snipers and mobile shooting platforms. Soldiers with Lt. Richard Hawkins’ platoon in the 101st Airborne Division rushed two SVD-armed snipers and ran them to ground, killing one and capturing the other. Likewise, 25th Infantry Division soldiers in Mosul did the same, running down and killing a sniper. In Bab al-Shariq, alert American troops spotted two mobile shooting platforms—one a modified automobile, the other a garbage truck carrying a Sudanese terrorist with a suppressed pistol—and quickly cornered and captured the drivers and terrorists.
Adding to this effort for the first time, crime scene investigation (CSI) went to war. Operating under the motto, “Defeat Snipers Through Science,” an Army forensics investigation unit opened for business in Baghdad in December 2006. Applying CSI’s full spectrum of investigative tools, technicians studied the rifling on bullets, recovered fingerprints off arms and cartridges and magazines and vehicles, identified DNA samples from cigarette butts and examined gunpowder residue on suspected gunmen’s cheeks. Within 18 months, the forensics lab had processed evidence from more than 1,800 shooting incidents, resulting in 150 biometric IDs of suspected shooters. Combining this forensics data with other intelligence, it was possible to identify specific snipers and publish their faces on wanted posters, along with generous rewards.
This was no small effort. In the case of three particular insurgent snipers, some 1 million wanted posters were printed and air-dropped by a U.S. Air Force C-130, blanketing the town where they were believed to be hiding. “Within hours of the drop,” explained Air Force Lt. Col. Elizabeth Kavanagh, “reports were received of individuals arriving at Iraqi police stations with leaflets in hand.”
Thanks to this forensic evidence, American soldiers and Marines also knew who to watch for when deploying into certain areas. When soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division arrived in Aby Salman, unit snipers recognized a man riding past on a bicycle—it was a wanted al-Qaeda sniper, undoubtedly scouting their location. Proactively, they nabbed him before he was even close to firing a shot.
Paralleling these efforts, U.S. Army Special Forces and elite Iraqi National Police went after the enemy’s sniper infrastructure, targeting planners, trainers, paymasters and arms smugglers. Their biggest catch was Ali Musa Daqduq, a Lebanese Hezbollah leader who’d infiltrated Iraq for the secretive Quds Force, a special branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. A veteran of 24 years with the Hezbollah terrorists, Daqduq had been funding and arming Iraqi special group snipers and coordinating their training inside Iran. All across Iraq, similar Special Forces operations took down safehouses and the enemy leadership, eroding the sniping effort’s base of support.
Amid the summer 2007 troop surge, the counter-sniping program reached a tipping point thanks to this combination of efforts. The enemy could no longer recruit, train and arm its snipers at the same pace they were being killed and apprehended. In 2007 the U.S. Army had tallied almost 300 enemy sniper attacks in Iraq, with 30 incidents in October, alone. Within a year that number had dwindled by two-thirds, thanks to effective counter-sniper efforts. And since then? Quoting U.S. military officials, Jane’s Defense magazine reported “such [sniping] reports for 2009 have since all but disappeared.”