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Marine Snipers Disrupt Insurgent Activity in Afghanistan

By Cpl. Rich Mattingly, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

KONAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 4, 2005 – In the difficult terrain of Afghanistan's Hindu Kush Mountains, troop movement can be slow and tedious. Often, Marine companies break operations down to platoon and squad elements to locate and close with the enemy.

Since anti-coalition militants are usually well-versed on evasion tactics in the mountains, the snipers of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, give commanders the ability to "reach out and touch someone."

"We've been operating in the Korangal valley for about a month now," said 2nd Lt. Roy Bechtold, a platoon commander with the battalion's Company I. "Our missions have been to disrupt activity and harass the (anti-coalition militants). We've been leaving as small a signature as possible for these missions, and the sniper teams are a large part of making that happen."

The high altitudes of the Hindu Kush mountain range and the wildly fluctuating temperatures of eastern Afghanistan make shooting at long distances challenging, especially when the target is moving.

"Because of the cold, the round tends to drop a certain amount over long distances," explained Sgt. Tucker Stokely on the considerations he and his spotter have to take into account before firing. "The elevation, thinning air and angle of the shot also have a lot to do with how the round will travel through the air."

With aid from his observer, Lance Cpl. Matt Brinker, Stokely said he was able to sight in and take the challenging shot. The sniper said the key to an effective, well-aimed shot is patience and having faith in your observer.

"You also have to be ready to adjust and take that second shot if you need to. You have to stay focused and not get frustrated or lose your patience," he added.

The M-40A3 sniper rifle Stokely uses in the field is known as a "minute of angle" weapon. Every 100 yards out, the shooter must compensate an inch to hit the same target.

Working in tandem with an observer, Marine Corps scout snipers are trained to quickly determine distances to various points in their field of fire and calculate the proper "dope," or rifle calibration, to accurately engage targets at those locations.

"It requires a lot of waiting," said Stokely. "Ninety-five percent of the time we don't see anything, but we try and prepare for everything."

(Marine Cpl. Rich Mattingly is assigned to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.)

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