You can pick up some good pointers on how to do things in life by watching other people fail. This is very true in war. During the early part of the Iraq war, Saddam’s loyalists would step out into the street to fire at American forces several hundred yards down the road, only to collect a bullet in the head for their trouble. Eventually, the other insurgents learned that leaving cover to fire their weapons was a Very Bad Idea.
In a Reuters story today about a Syrian government helicopter apparently downed by Syrian rebel forces, there were several photos of a rebel with a scoped rifle that the news agency determined was “a sniper.” I can only assume they mean that in the loosest possible meaning of the term. I would refer to him as the “soon to be deceased” and “the guy about to get their position rocketed.”
In the first photo, you can see a hole in the exterior wall near the doorway that is roughly 8″ in diameter. Light is shining through the hole and illuminating the face of a Syrian fighter armed with a rifle that looks like Iraqi Tabuk, which itself is an accurized semi-auto RPK. The weapon is more akin to a designated marksman’s rifle than a true sniper rifle, having much reduced range. In average hands, it’s at best a 400-yard gun due to the limitations of the cartridge and platform.
It is a rugged design if not a precision weapon, and well-suited for poorly trained and equipped rebels taking pot shots at government forces. The problem isn’t the weapon, but the tactics used by the shooter.
Using purpose-made loopholes or existing shell holes from battle damage is a sniper’s trick as old as sniping itself. The holes themselves seem ordinary in a bombed out urban environment, and can give snipers both cover and concealment.
Of course, that is predicated on using the hole properly.
The second photo shows the “sniper” has his gun barrel projecting through the hole, the equivalent of shouting, “shoot me, I’m right here!”
If the projecting barrel itself isn’t obvious enough to professional soldiers he may be facing, the muzzle blast that will occur when he does fire will send a plume of dust flying from the hole and the exterior wall, even more emphatically pinpointing his presence in case the projecting muzzle failed to draw enough attention.
A professional opposing force sniper has to drool over such an easy targeting opportunity. He needs to merely aim down the barrel of this man to not just kill him, but possibly the dim-witted soul sitting directly behind him. If the OPFOR has heavier weapons to bring to bear—anything from a simple RPG to a tank gun to artillery—he can conceivably bag everyone in the room with a single well-aimed shot.
Professionally trained snipers and designated marksmen would never be so close to a loophole, even if it offered a good view. They’d set up on the opposite side of the room, find something stable to brace their weapon upon, and make sure their muzzle blast could not be seen. They would not expose themselves to daylight, would not expose their weapon to the enemy, and certainly wouldn’t betray their position with a cloud of dust.
They Syrian rebels may indeed topple the regime of Bashir Assad in the weeks to come, but ill-trained men such as these are a good example of why their casualties continue to mount.