Over at the strategypage.com, they’ve posted an entry called Never Bring a Rifle To A Missile Fight. The article chronicles a battle against a Taliban sniper that ended with a missile strike. Geddit? Yes, well, given that the Taliban have killed thousands of U.S. soldiers and that the war has gone on for over a decade, you’d kind hope that our troops (and the media) would avoid gleeful arrogance about their supposedly superior firepower. As Boss Rojak said in My Favorite Year, the fightin’s in rounds. And a close reading of the report provides every reason to be worried about our enemy’s capabilities. Here’s the arc of the story . . .
[The] sniper . . . was firing from a nearby compound, via a small tunnel dug through the wall of the compound, terminating in a 30×15 cm (12×6 inch) opening to fire out of. To further conceal his position, he had some nearby associates fire assault rifles and a machine-gun just before he took his shot at the British. To further conceal himself, the sniper only fired three times a day. The British would not say how many soldiers the sniper hit, but the British quickly identified seven possible firing positions. The sniper was then tricked into firing again while the seven suspected sites were being observed, and this revealed the small hole in the wall as the location. A British Apache helicopter gunship was standing by, and it fired a Hellfire missile which, because of its laser guidance, hit the small firing hole, killing the sniper and one of his spotters.
Notice that we get no idea of the carnage the sniper created before a $2m plus helicopter fired a $70k missile to end his killing spree. (Note: does not include running costs, logistical support or personnel.) No statement about the amount of time that the sniper tied down American forces. Or the sniper’s psychological effect on troop morale. Oh wait, that’s not a big issue. Apparently.
This is not seen as a major danger. NATO troops wear protective bests [sic] and helmets that can stop bullets fired at long range, making it very frustrating for the Taliban shooters trying to hit a distant target in a vulnerable spot.
In war, frustration at the sharp end often leads to strategic innovation. The strategypage.com article provides a fascinating, Chivers-like look at the impact of the British Lee-Enfield rifle and the flood of Saudi-provided K47’s to the Afghan rebels (back when they were out friends). Here’s my favorite bit (if that’s the right word):
The young guys took to the AK, and the thrill of emptying a 30 round magazine on full automatic. Not bad for a brief firefight, and suddenly hardly anyone, except a few old timers, wanted to use the old bolt action rifle.
What was not noticed much outside of Afghanistan, was that this shift in weaponry [from the British Lee Enfield to the AK47] brought to an end a long Afghan tradition of precision, long range shooting. Before the 1980s, this skill was treasured for both hunting and warfare. When doing neither, Afghan men played games centered on marksmanship. One, for example, involved a group of men chipping in and buying a goat. The animal was then tethered to a rock, Then the half dozen or so men moved several hundred meters away and drew lots to see who would fire in what order. The first man to drop the goat, won it. Since Afghanistan was the poorest nation in Asia, ammo was expensive, and older men taught the young boys all the proper moves needed to get that first shot off accurately.
And here’s my least favorite bit.
Now, wealthy drug lords are buying expensive hunting and sniper rifles for their militias, but so far, many of the Taliban Snipers appear to be using grandpa’s old Lee-Enfield.
Military commanders and camp followers should note: as bad as things are in Afghanistan, or as good, they can always get worse.