[Marxism] Iraqi snipers
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 4 07:41:29 MST 2006
NY Times, November 4, 2006
Sniper Attacks Adding to Peril of U.S. Troops
By C. J. CHIVERS
KARMA, Iraq, Nov. 3 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
corporals 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 ghosts 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 militarys operations and fueling a climate of frustration and quiet rage.
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 Leachs 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 battalions 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.
A sniper team was captured in the area a few
weeks ago, he said, but more have taken its
place. The enemy has the ability to regenerate,
and after we put a dent in his activity, we see
sniper activity again, said the commander, Lt. Col. Kenneth M. DeTreux.
Marines in two infantry companies recounted more
cases, telling of lone shots that zipped in as if
from nowhere, striking turrets and walls within
inches of marines. They typically occur when the
marines are not engaged in combat. It is as if,
they say, they are being watched.
By many measures, the Iraqi snipers have showed
unexceptional marksmanship, usually shooting from
within 300 yards, far less than ranges preferred
by the elite snipers in Western military units.
But as the insurgent sniper teams have become
more active, the marines here say, they have
displayed greater skill, selecting their targets
and their firing positions with care. They have
also developed cunning methods of mobility and
concealment, including firing from shooting
platforms and hidden ports within cars.
They often use variants of the long-barreled
Dragunov rifle, which shoots higher-powered
ammunition than the much more common Kalashnikov
assault rifles. Their marksmanship has improved
to the point of being good enough.
In the beginning of the war, sniping wasnt
something that the Iraqis did, said Capt. Glen
Taylor, the executive officer of the battalions
Company G, who is on his third combat tour. It
was like, If Allah wants that bullet to hit its
target, it will. But they are starting to realize how effective it is.
The insurgents are recruiting snipers and
centralizing their instruction, the captain said,
meaning that the phenomenon is likely to grow.
They have training camps they go around and
advertise, he said. We heard from some of our
sources that the insurgents were going around
with loudspeakers, saying that if you want to be
a sniper we will pay you three times whatever your salary is now.
The marines also express their belief that the
sniper teams have a network of spotters, and that
each time the marines leave their outpost,
spotters hidden among the Iraqi population call
the snipers and tell them where the marines are
and what they are doing. The snipers then arrive.
For the infantry, Iraqs improved snipers have
created confounding new dangers, as an unseen
enemy plucks members from their ranks. Most of
the time, the marines said, the snipers aim for
their heads, necks and armpits, displaying
knowledge of gaps in their protective gear. They
typically shoot once and disappear. And they
often fire on the opposite side of obstacles like
canals, which limits a units ability to capture
the sniper or respond with fire.
Thats the biggest thing that tears marines
apart, said Cpl. Curtis S. Cota-Robles of
Company G, who was standing beside a marine who
was shot through the collarbone in late
September. They hit us when we are vulnerable, and then they are gone.
As part of their counterinsurgency operations,
the marines working in Anbar are under orders to
show restraint, a policy rooted in hopes of
winning the trust of the civilian population.
Iraqi snipers seem to know these rules and use
them for their own protection. They often fire
from among civilians, the marines say, having
observed that unless the marines have a clear
target, they will not shoot. In two sniper
shootings witnessed by two journalists for The
New York Times, on Oct. 30 and 31, the snipers
fired from among civilians. The marines did not fire back.
In conditions where killing the snipers has
proved difficult, the marines have tried to find
ways to limit their effectiveness. Signs inside
Marine positions display an often-spoken rule: Make yourself hard to kill.
Many marines, on operations, do an understated
dance they call cutting squares. It is not really a square at all.
They zig and zag as they walk, and when they stop
they shift weight from foot to foot, bobbing
their heads. They change the rhythm often, so
that when a sniper who might be watching them
thinks they are about to zig, they have zagged.
Now and then they squat, shift weight to one leg
and stand up beside the place where they had just
been. Maj. Sean Riordan, the battalion executive
officer, described his own unpredictable jigs as my little salsa dance.
As they move, the marines often peer down their
own scopes, looking at windows, rooftops, lines
of brush. Then they might step backward, or
forward, or duck, as if saying: try to shoot that.
But as operations drag on, some marines begin to
stop cutting squares. And sometimes even those
that are moving are still shot. And there are special dangers.
Lance Cpl. Colin Smith, who was shot on Monday,
was behind a machine gun in a vehicle turret, a
position that placed him higher in the air than a
walking marine. Turret gunners are protected by
armor shields, but their heads are often exposed.
He was struck in the skull. He survived but fell
into a coma and was placed on life support.
Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo, who was shot on
Tuesday, was a radio operator a preferred
snipers target since radios and rifles first
mixed on the battlefield many decades ago. A
tactical radio can provide a link to mortars,
artillery, air support and other infantry units.
Ten marines, several soldiers from the nascent
Iraqi Army and two journalists were walking
exposed in a column when the shot was fired and
he went down; his antenna probably made him the
snipers pick. Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo has
been flown to a military hospital in Landstuhl,
Germany. He is in good condition and has spoken to his unit.
In both cases the sniper fired from the other
side of a canal, among civilians and a group of
buildings. The advantages were his.
Seeing the risks, the commanders have been
shifting tactics to reduce the marines
vulnerability while still trying to keep them out
on the streets, interacting with Iraqis and
searching for insurgents and arms caches.
Some units have limited their foot patrols by
day, finding them to be too dangerous. They still
enter neighborhoods in armored vehicles and
dismount, but often quickly step into buildings to interview people inside.
They continue to patrol on foot at night, because
the Iraqi snipers have not yet shown the
sophistication to fire with precision in the
dark, and the marines night vision equipment and
weapons sights give them the upper hand.
They also cover most of their vital organs with
protective armor plates, which have saved several
of them when the Iraqi snipers have fired.
One marine, Gunnery Sgt. Shawn M. Dempsey of
Weapons Company, was shot in the back as he
helped a small girl across a street. The plate
saved him. He remains on duty as a platoon commander.
Another, Lance Cpl. Edward Knuth of Company G,
was hit as his squad searched a watermelon market
beside a main road. No one in his squad heard the
shot, which he said was probably made from a
vehicle parked on the highway. All they heard was
the impact of the bullet on his plate.
It was like a smacking sound, he said.
The force of the impact, like being struck with a
baseball bat, knocked him to his knees. A marine
swiftly dragged him to cover. Then his squad
rushed the line of cars. They found nothing. The sniper had escaped.
Theyre good, Lance Corporal Knuth said,
showing a crumbling, coin-sized hole in his armor
where the bullet stopped. They take their time.
Theyre patient. They only take one shot most of
the time, and they are hard to find.
After Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo was shot and
evacuated, a sweat-soaked, bloodied Sergeant
Leach led his team through the rest of his
patrol. When the marines re-entered the wire, an angry debriefing began.
Move quickly through the open areas, the
noncommissioned officers told the troops. Dont
stand high on the berms. Camouflage the radios.
Keep your eyes out and rifles ready.
Little was said about how to kill the sniper; the
marines did not know where he was. They passed
cigarettes and smoked them in the sun, and fumed.
Ill carry the radio next time, said Lance Cpl.
Peter Sprague. I dont have any kids.
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