It was now day five for our Sniper/Recon team, which consisted of me (sniper), “P” as my spotter, and four reconnaissance Rangers. We had been gathering intelligence and tracking a high-value target behind enemy lines in southern Afghanistan for the past four days. With the intel we had gathered, we sent up our reports to an assault force consisting of 30 Rangers, and chose to conduct an operation to capture or kill the H.V.T located in a small compound near our location.
My team met up with the assault force early in the afternoon on the fifth day. After a quick operations order, we decided to make our movement under the cover of darkness to the targeted location. As the sun fell beneath the Afghanistan horizon, our element set out on a foot movement that would total 10 kilometers over rough terrain and through small villages. The movement seemed to my team a lot further – we had been awake for 4 and a half days carrying 70-100 pounds of gear and only managing to take 15 to 30 minute cat naps every now and then. Thanks to the training we had stateside, we knew what our bodies were capable of, even in the worst of conditions.
The assault force would conduct the actual raid, and capture or kill the target, while my team of six would break off one kilometer short of the target and provide an over watch/blocking position. The position we were set in was surrounded by one-foot tall vegetation and small two-foot deep depressions scattered throughout a large field, not an ideal place, to be but it was the best that we could do. Noticing the depressions in the area, I signaled to the rest of the men that it would be a fallback position if things went sour.
As we lay in the prone, concealing ourselves to the best of our ability beneath the vegetation, the remaining assault force set up in positions around the target building preparing to conduct a breach. Observing the environment around our position, I noticed a group of men gathering around a small hut less than two hundred yards away. It seemed like they were in what appeared to be a football style huddle discussing their next play on an offensive drive.
I called up what I was observing to the Recon Team Leader and kept eyes on the men. Looking back at my spotter and shaking my head side to side, he took the safety off of his .300 Winchester Magnum and put an infrared laser on one of the men’s chest. There was an eerie feeling settling over the area, almost like a thick wool blanket. We just knew something was about to happen, this type of activity was something I had not seen before in the area.
As the assault team prepared to make a final approach on the target building, the sun had begun to crest over the horizon. The operation was taking longer than expected. Not only did we have to traverse over rough terrain, but we had to remain unseen and quiet moving through through and over villagers sleeping outside, which took us some time. The men that “P” and I had been observing had now left, dispersing in all directions. A call came through my ear piece radio from the Recon TL, stating, “I think we should hunker down, I think we’re about to get into a fight.”
No less than 30 seconds after him stating this, we heard loud snaps pass through the air over our heads and impacting a few feet from us. Without hesitation, my team crawled over to a nearby depression I had pointed out earlier and crammed our bodies into it. The intensity of the fire was overwhelming and somewhat hard to believe. “SNAP, SNAP, SNAP, SNAP.” Bullets impacted only a few inches from us, cutting the vegetation in half and sending dirt flying into the air.
We were being engaged from all sides with RPK machine guns, AK-47s, AK-74s, and occasionally rockets. I managed to climb on top of one of the Recon members to try and get accurate fire on the individuals engaging us. With “P’s” body crammed next to mine, we oriented our scopes in the direction of a small village 400 yards away, from where most of the fire was coming. Only able to extend my suppressed SR-25 sniper barrel out through vegetation, my optics were partially obscured, but I was able to see three men running on a rooftop. I saw what appeared to be one of the men carrying an RPK machine gun and preparing to set it up to fire on us.
I yelled out to my spotter, “You got the guys 400 out on the building rooftop?” He replied back to me, “Roger, eyes on, one RPK, go for it.” I placed the center of my cross-hairs on the throat of the man holding the machine gun, this being the only portion of his body I could see clearly. “Sending!” informing my spotter that I was sending my first shot. The first shot was a miss, causing the man to slightly flinch as the round flew past him. Due to a bad position, I couldn’t see the splash of where the round fell and asked “P” for a rough adjustment.
After his correction, I held half a MIL to the left of his throat and squeezed the trigger again. The second round landed where it needed to be. As his body slumped over the machine gun, the two remaining men proceeded to maneuver to another position. Once I had the correct hold off, I squeezed off another round with “P” following up my shot with his loud .300 Win Mag. I was extremely frustrated at the fact that I was not able to engage all of them, but I knew that once we had a lull in the fire I would be able to successfully engage them from a better position.
The enemy by now had not only completely surrounded us, they were also closing in. I could hear them screaming “Allah Hu Akbar” and the sound of the vegetation cracking as they ran through it. They did a pretty good job at keeping us pinned down. Every second that elapsed, a volley of bullets would impact danger-close, at some points an inch or two in front of our faces. Holding them back as best we could, the Recon TL called for backup to the assault force which was also in a hell of a fight. We received reports from them occasionally stating that they were pinned down and in hand combat distance. Help from them at the time was not an option, and was told to fight our way to them if possible.
With our movement denied, we then began calling in for air support from every asset in the area. We managed to get a few F-16 and B-2 bombers dispatched to us and requested that they drop ordinance danger-close on our position. In order for them to do so, we had to give them coordinates to the enemy’s position.
As I stuck my eyes above the vegetation to get eyes on, a loud crack passed inches away from my left ear, causing a deafening ring within it. Quickly taking cover and making sure I wasn’t hit, I realized that this was not the regular string of fire we had been encountering. One of the Recon Medics screamed out my call sign to make sure I was fine. “Yeah, son of bitch almost got me with that one. Going back up…cover me!” I replied back to him. As they lay down a few rounds of 5.56 and .300 Win Mag, I stuck my head above the vegetation again. “SNAP, SMACK!” Another single bullet flew past my head and struck the ground behind me! “We got a sniper on us!” I yelled to the men.
With bombers in flight and less than 10 minutes out, we knew we somehow needed to get the enemy target coordinates. We devised a quick plan to cause the sniper to fire on us and allow one of us to get positive eyes on the enemy. My spotter and I would send out a string of fire simultaneously in the direction of the sniper fire, while the Ranger communications operator rolled out of the hole, allowing him to see the targets. With a quick countdown, we started to engage. I could see rounds impacting danger close next to my spotter and in front of my rifle. With the rounds focused on us, it allowed the communications Ranger to get quick eyes on target and take cover.
Rolling back into the depression with us, he gave us the coordinates to send up to the incoming fighter pilots. After sending the coordinates, a pilot responded to us over our radio, “We cannot engage with ordinance, collateral damage too high. Over.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The Recon TL showed his disgust with the call and responded back to the pilots insisting that they drop ordinance, they could even drop danger-close if need be. The same call came back to us. All they could do was show their presence and hope to scare off the enemy. Knowing that this was going to be a situation that we would have to fight out of on our own, our immediate priority was to eliminate the enemy sniper.
I remembered a technique in one of the sniper courses that I had been to called the “Snap/Bang.” The technique is only accurate out to 500 yards, and allows you to determine a snipers distance and rough location, but I thought I’d give it a try. As another “SNAP” passed overhead, I counted the seconds it took before I heard the “BANG” from his rifle. With this technique, I estimated that the sniper had to be at least 450 yards away. I asked “P” if he could see any tall, single structures at that distance, and if so, observe the top floor windows of that structure. I managed to take a few peeks in-between the sniper fire and picked out a building where I would be if I were the sniper.
Talking my spotter onto a building I believed the sniper to be in about 500 yards away, another snap passed overhead, impacting behind my shoulder. “I got him!” my spotter shouted out to me. In the process of telling me where the shot originated, “P” saw two men from the corner of his eye approaching danger close to our position. I told him to take care of them while I tried to get a better position in order to take a precise shot through a window. While “P” engaged the men, I tried inching my way up above the depression to get into a steady prone position. “SNAP!” Another round passed just inches away from my head, halting me in my tracks, not allowing me to get into position.
The good thing was that I was now able to at least see the buildings window clearly. The sniper had set himself in a perfect urban hide. He had a dark drape in the window, and placed himself deep into the room, not allowing us to see or engage him. All my spotter and I could do at this point was somewhat suppress him with accurate fire. With every round that we shot in the window, he responded with accurate fire of his own.
Knowing that we couldn’t perform this for much longer, we had to get out some way or another. After a few more calls over the radio to the assault force, we finally heard some good news. A small machine gun team was on the way to help us out. They had been fighting just as hard as we were and we figured that they would take no more than 10 minutes to get to our position. We were absolutely wrong, these Rangers carrying their machine guns and over 800 rounds of ammo, got to us within 5 minutes. The small machine gun team ran towards the gunfire and fell into the prone with three machine guns and three M4s roaring just behind us.
I swear it was something out of the movies.
The intensity of the gun fire they put down range was so overwhelming, it caused the enemy sniper and insurgents to cease-fire momentarily from pure shock. As they lay down covering fire, the TL threw out a smoke grenade in order to conceal our movement.
The four Recon Rangers began to bound back in pairs while “P” and I put accurate fire on the enemy snipers position. Knowing that my spotter and I would be the last to bound back the 300 yards to a safe position, I simply looked over at him, wished him luck and pounded his fist. For a moment, I laughed aloud out of pure frustration. It was time we finally got into a position where we could engage the enemy.
When it was our chance to maneuver back, I put a fresh 20 round magazine in my rifle, went to a knee and cracked off a quick five shots at the enemy. “P” heard my rifle fire and began running to a spot where he could cover me. I don’t remember anything about the bound back except the feeling of running on air, probably the fastest I had ever run in my life.
Once in a safe position, we provided cover fire for the machine gun team, allowing them to gather up at our new position. We found a small trench on the back side of a road where we loaded fresh mags and took a quick drink of water we had stored in our assault packs. Preparing to move out and assist the assault force, we got word that one of the guys had been shot – not life threatening and he was receiving treatment.
After the quick break, we positioned ourselves in a wedge formation and prepared to move out. As the movement began, I saw out of my peripheral a man in white clothing peeking from behind a corner of a nearby hut. I called “P” over to me and laid my rifle on his shoulder. As soon as my eye focused on the scope reticle, the man popped out pointing an AK-47 barrel in our direction. I only recall quickly squeezing the trigger immediately as the center of my cross-hairs landed on his chest. His body crumbled under his dead weight, partially exposing his head from the corner of the building with the AK-47 lying underneath him.
Over the course of our short movement, we received a call over our radios stating that the assault force had secured multiple personnel within the targeted compound and had taken up a rally position in a nearby compound. Enemy fire for now seemed to have come to abrupt stop. Once again, something just didn’t seem right.
The terrain forced us to walk near a small ravine filled with muddy knee and chest deep water that lead to our rally point building less than 500 yards away. “SNAP, SNAP, SNAP!” We all dove into the ravine and laid down aggressive fire to our flank. The enemy had concealed themselves with the locals in the area and began ambushing us once again with accurate and overwhelming fire. I was able to spot the heads of a few targets over the edge of the embankment and began to engage them.
While engaging targets, I heard extremely loud cracks next to my ear. At first I thought it was one of the Rangers who had come to our rescue shooting an M4 next to my ear. I looked over at one of them to tell them to push left a bit. As my mouth began to open, I saw that the nearest man to my left was 15 feet away. The sound I was hearing was actually the rounds of enemy fire popping and smacking the mud behind me. Firing off another shot and hitting an enemy Taliban in the face, I looked back to my left and prepared to move away from my targeted location. As I began to move, I heard another strange sound, but not the sound of a bullet snapping overhead, this was a different sound.
The weird sound that I heard was then followed by a loud scream. Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, one of the men who came in to save us just a few minutes ago, had been struck in the thigh. A stream of blood sprayed out from his leg and into the ravine water. Without hesitation, the men around him dove on his body and started to apply pressure on his wound. Blood quickly filled the stagnate water that we were in, turning the water a dark brown. My spotter and I, along with a few M4 gunners and machine gunners raised ourselves out of the water and emptied our magazines on the partially obscured enemy.
While we were engaging, one of our medics ran under heavy incoming fire and through waist deep water to reach Kopp. Upon reaching him, he tossed his medical bag into the water, opened it and proceeded to provide care. I was in complete awe watching the medic go to work while his medical bag lay floating in the ravine and bullets impacted around him.
This was not the place to stay and dish out a fight. I turned to an officer behind me, grabbed his shoulder and pulled him close to me so that I could inform him of where the enemy sniper was last spotted. “Sir, if we can…” I felt what seemed to be water smack the side of face.
This was not water hitting my face, it was blood.
The PL sunk from my grasp and into the water screaming “I’m hit, I’m hit!” A single round struck the PL in the upper chest, just above his body armor. “P” immediately fell on the PL and placed his finger in the bullet hole while, I turned back to my rear and emptied half a magazine back towards the enemy. A medic from my Recon team ran over to him and started to assist him. The enemy sniper had strategically taken out key members of our team and was now focusing in on me and and my spotter.
Continue reading in Rangers: Against All Odds (Part 2)