The importance of military sharpshooters such as “American Sniper” Chris Kyle was never better demonstrated than during the 10-month struggle to take Fallujah in 2004.
The urban swarm of al Qaeda in Iraq assassins and Saddam Hussein thugs presented Kyle with a sniper’s main mission: From a hidden nest, kill the enemy first and thus save American lives.
Rep. Ryan K. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, was commanding special operations troops in Iraq in early 2004. He recalls how the city west of Baghdad had degenerated into terror central.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, today the leader of the ultraviolent Islamic State, got his murderous start in Fallujah as a midlevel insurgent.
Mr. Zinke, a freshman Republican from Montana, talked with The Washington Times as some on the political left have disparaged the job of a sniper in war and dismissed the blockbuster movie “American Sniper,” based on Kyle’s same-titled memoir.
“Snipers are absolutely essential if you value our troops’ lives,” Mr. Zinke said. “A sniper provides protection of the ground troops for movement. Troops, oftentimes in an urban environment, are limited in their sight picture. A sniper is able to see around the corner and protect the troops’ movements.”
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In his narrative, Kyle writes of Fallujah, specifically the second major battle in November 2004. A U.S. Marine force stood poised to invade a city then all but absent of civilians.
Kyle stationed himself overlooking the streets, backyards and alleys — the places insurgents were preparing for the invasion. He converted an apartment into a sniper’s nest and began looking for quarry — an enemy he called “savages” — with his high-power .300 Win Mag rifle. When an armed insurgent popped up, he killed him, taking away one more threat to the incoming Marines.
“After the first kill, the others come easy,” he wrote of that first day in Fallujah. “I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally — I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people. I got three that day.”
He added, “You do it again. And again. You do it so the enemy won’t kill you or your countrymen. You do it until there’s no one left for you to kill. That’s what war is.”
The Clint Eastwood movie “American Sniper” has angered some on the left.
Filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted that snipers are “cowards.” An NBC reporter implied that Kyle was a racist and said his war service was “a killing spree.” Democrat Howard Dean said on HBO’s “Real Time” that “people who are very angry” are going to see the movie. He speculated there is an “intersection” between them and the tea party.
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Rolling Stone magazine — which once glamorized on its cover Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured 264 — called the film “almost too dumb to criticize.”
Warriors say critics of snipers do not understand their role.
“A sniper is one of the most effective tools on the battlefield,” said Brandon Webb, a SEAL teammate of Kyle’s and a former sniper instructor. “He’s protecting troops on the ground in some cases and eliminating high-value targets in a way that doesn’t come with collateral damage. We can tag [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operator Anwar] al-Awlaki in Yemen and send a Predator missile to kill him. But what kind of collateral damage does that come with? With a sniper, in most cases, it’s zero collateral damage. You’re taking out an enemy target very effectively and efficiently and inexpensively.”
Mr. Webb, who founded Force12 Media, a military-focused digital publishing company, was instrumental in creating the modern SEAL sniper. The Naval Special Warfare Command overhauled and modernized the curriculum in the early 2000s, borrowing the best from a bevy of sharpshooting programs, including the Olympics.
“It is producing the deadliest snipers the world has ever seen,” Mr. Webb said.
“When you compare sniper courses, if you were to put it on paper and think of it like a curriculum in college, a SEAL sniper who graduates from our program has a Harvard and Wharton MBA in sniping as opposed to some of the other branches where you are looking at more of an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. A SEAL sniper understands ballistics: how to compensate for Coriolis effect the spin of the earth, when you take long distances shots. Depending on your degree of latitude and your magnetic bearings toward the target, the spin of the earth will actually affect, or counter, wind in some cases.”
A final test: A SEAL student is blindfolded as an instructor changes a rifle’s calibrations. Sight returned, the SEAL must quickly adjust the rifle to hit a target 1,000 meters away.
“Within three rounds, students figure out how to get back on the target steel plate,” Mr. Webb said.
Mr. Webb this spring is out with a new book, “Among Heroes,” the stories of eight SEALs killed in action.
“The amazing thing is that there are SEAL sniper students I trained, serving on active duty, that have more kills than Chris Kyle, [but] they just haven’t told their stories yet,” he writes.
Kyle was among about 600 snipers assigned to U.S. special operations forces. The conventional Army and Marine Corps also produce in-house snipers. What they do in war remains mostly secret. Kyle’s book was reviewed and cleared by the Defense Department.
In the war on terror, one of the most famous sniper operations was the hijacking of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, plus its crew and captain, Richard Phillips, by ruthless Somali pirates.
The Somalis held Mr. Phillips hostage in a lifeboat in an attempt to transfer him to their shore base. Sharpshooters from elite SEAL Team Six parachuted to the scene. On Sunday, April 12, 2009, they simultaneously fired from about 40 yards, scoring all headshots that instantly killed all three pirates, likely saving Mr. Phillips’ life, according to numerous press reports.
“There’s been plenty of crucial moments where SEAL snipers have provided pivotal roles in preventing loss of life,” Mr. Webb said.
Said former SEAL Mr. Zinke, “A lot of sniping is a little bit of a lone wolf [activity]. You’re often out there exposed. You don’t operate with a large force. You rely on a skill set of camouflage, concealment, communications and, of course, understanding weapons and ballistics. It does take a little bit of a different personality.”
Kyle is credited with 160 kills in Iraq, making him, as his book says, “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history.”
“The number is not important to me,” Kyle wrote, “I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives. Everyone I shot in Iraq was trying to harm Americans or Iraqis loyal to the new government. I had a job to do as a SEAL.”
On Feb. 13, 2013, Mr. Kyle was shot and killed at a Texas shooting range. A war veteran he was helping is charged with his murder.
A year later, Fallujah, the town for which U.S. forces — including Kyle — fought so hard, fell to the Islamic State terrorist army, which controls it today.