Video: Iraq snipers a growing problem

Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/19/2006 7:54:52 PM ET 2006-10-19T23:54:52

For the U.S. military — with all its high-tech weapons and armor — snipers, armed only with a rifle, have rapidly become one of the deadliest threats from an enemy so brazen they constantly update videos of their attacks on the Internet.

In Baghdad, where every street is potentially a sniper's alley, soldiers anxiously scan windows anticipating the next shot.

"We're next to high-rises and stuff like that," says one soldier. "With the sniper threat around this area, that's our biggest concern right now."

Insurgent videos available on the Web demonstrate why. Snipers remain invisible and strike without warning. In one video, soldiers have no idea a sniper is anywhere near, until he takes the shot.

Jack Coughlin, a former Marine sniper with more than 60 enemy kills, says one good sniper can strike fear in an entire military unit.

"It's the fear of the unknown," he says. "You don't know if you're going to be next. You don't know where you're going to get hit."

The videos also reveal the snipers' tactics. Many shots are taken from the back seats of cars on busy streets, which provide perfect cover. The sniper picks an opening between moving vehicles and fires, then disappears behind the crush of traffic.

But the graphic videos are also tools for enemy propaganda.

"You see the victim," says NBC News terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann. "You see the victim being killed, falling to the ground. That kind of an impact cannot be underestimated."

The military won't release the actual number of Americans killed by snipers, because it says that would tell the enemy just how effective they may be.

Military officials also insist U.S. troops are not defenseless — that American sharpshooters have killed dozens of enemy snipers.

But outside Fort Hood, Texas, this week, military honors were held for 21-year-old Brandon Asbury, promoted to sergeant the day before he was cut down by a sniper's bullet. And in his family's grief, a soldier and father bid his son a final farewell.

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