18 February 2010


Today's NYTimes reports that the U.S.-led forces in the current Afghan offensive are coming under increasingly frequent and accurate fire from Taliban snipers. The report is one more link in the chain of evidence that you can't wage a conventional war against guerrilla forces. If we didn't learn that lesson in Vietnam, we certainly should have learned it from the disastrous Soviet invastion of Afghanistan (which was fought against the native, U.S.-backed Mujahideen, which evolved into today's Taliban fighters).

"Sniper -- a highly trained marksman who shoots targets from concealed positions or from distances exceeding the capabilities of regular personnel. Snipers typically have specialized training and distinct high-precision rifles. In addition to marksmanship, military snipers are also trained in camouflage, field craft, infiltration, reconnaissance and observation techniques."

Snipers have been used in every major war since at least the 1700s. Their value lies in their ability to take down a specific target with high precision, and with the least risk to large numbers of combatants or civilians. The motto which emerged from the Vietnam War was "One Shot, One Kill." From the standpoint of both human lives and economics, this makes eminently more sense than sending in large numbers of soldiers who expend literally tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition for that same single kill.

Our current involvement in Afghanistan is questionable. While we undeniably must combat terrorist organizations, the most effective proven method is by using small units of Special Forces or Delta Force counter-insurgents, who train and advise local military units, as well as providing medical and infrastructure assistance. In any conflict, especially one in which there is such a complex array of political and military factions, one must win the hearts and minds of the populace, in addition to using unconventional military tactics. Tactics which should include our own use of snipers, as well as the use of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) drones for surveillance and for the launch of highly accurate laser-guided missiles and bombs.

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