One shot-One kill The mission of the STF sniper | Sunday Observer

One shot-One kill The mission of the STF sniper

Hidden away in the dense foliage of the jungle, almost motionless with minimum movement are two men. One scouts the terrain ahead, scanning for movement with binoculars. The shooter awaits the bearings of the target. Once this is confirmed he confidently squeezes the trigger to unleash one bullet that strikes a high value enemy target. Death is instant. The two man team makes a stealthy exit back to their base, leaving no trace. Since 1984 this has been the role of the snipers attached to the Special Task Force. These highly trained men operate on a low profile, never revealing their faces or looking for publicity. In the domain of counter- terrorism the STF snipers have rendered a silent service to the nation. Their work is best captured in the words of American General George Patton “Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory”.

In order to understand their methods of operation I visited their training base. One of the first snipers produced by the STF is Assistant Superintendent of Police Pigera. He recollected his experience “During 1984 the threat of the LTTE began to increase, and they often attacked convoys. Eight of us were selected and trained by the KMS (comprising former members of the Special Air Service). We learned to fire the SR-80, which was not a combat sniper rifle. Later on a troop consisting 90 men moved to Kallady in the Eastern Province. We were the first snipers that fought alongside our colleagues. We then learnt to shoot using the G-3 rifle which had a range of 300 - 600 metres. By 1986 the proper system of operating with a trained spotter was inculcated into the STF. Subsequently we began using the PSG-51 rifle”. In 1988 the STF sniper team won the inter service shooting competition rising above the other armed forces.

The silent role of the sniper is not often recognised in the combat narrative. It is believed in the military forums that two snipers can actually hold one brigade for 48 hours if they use their skills with maximum efficiency. The weather, especially the wind has an impact on the accuracy of hitting the target. For the concealed sniper there is only one shot - and often no chance to take a second shot as the enemy is alerted. This single shot will change the course of an entire battle, if a high value target is killed.

Combat tracking is a key skill taught to aspiring snipers. One of the officers related a story where a wanted terrorist leader was stalked for a few weeks in the Eastern Province. He had a secret romantic affair with a woman, whom he visited. After staying hidden at a distance, the entire night the STF sniper had to sit on the shoulders of his spotter and fired a fatal shot, right through the window grill at the enemy.

Director Training Superintendent of Police, Athula Daulagala explained “During our basic recruit training course we keep a keen eye on those who shoot well and handle their weapon with skill. The best three shooters from each platoon are selected for the marksman basic course. After they pass out, we invite them back after one year and offer them the chance to qualify for the marksman badge. This is the foundation course from which they can proceed to enter the sniper course”.

Being a sniper is not easy. One must have tough mental and physical endurance and the ability to multi task. Some of the snipers follow the nine month course conducted at the Army MSTS at Diyatalawa.

The sniper and spotter operate as a team (the spotter is also a qualified sniper). Prior to a counter-terrorist operation the snipers move in before the others (often at night) and take up a concealed position on a vantage point. They make observations by marking their range cards, and update the advance raiding party.

In his book on field craft James Gallagher talks of the SALUTE system – where a sniper must inform the size, activity, location, unit, time and equipment held by the enemy. Snipers are trained to be in the forest, sometimes, for even five days. Superintendent of Police Faizal Hadgie is a veteran shooter and survival expert. He recalled “Many years ago we were on a patrol in the deep jungle when the enemy was spotted. I used my SAKO-TRG 42 rifle and was able to take down seven terrorists. If anyone is hit with a high caliber bullet they will die, even if they survive for a day or two the shock released by the shot will eventually kill them. We always aim for the centre of the visible part of any target. The jungle has its own challenges. There are wild animals like elephants and bears. One night we were out on patrol when a lone elephant suddenly advanced from the bushes and charged us. I fired two bursts into the air and the animal retreated.

In another instance one of our men was bitten by a snake at night. Before we cross a river our snipers take position and screen the area for any threats, before they give us the green light to cross safely”.

Camouflage is a vital element in sniper operations. When operating in an urban environment the sniper team is often concealed in a high rise building. But the jungle or other natural terrain presents the problem of blending into the background. This is when the sniper wears the ‘ghillie suit’ - a strange handmade kit, sewn with bits and pieces of burlap, onto which are attached fragments of tiny branches and leaves. The ‘ghillie suit’ has its origins from the Scottish Highland Regiment of the British Army. In addition the sniper must disguise the contour of his face by applying a green and black face cream. Another option is the brown face veil, which conceals the face but has openings for the eyes to see the target.

Today the STF has advanced to use the world class SAKO rifle (from Finland) which has a maximum range of 1500 metres and an effective range of 1000 metres, firing a .338 bullet. Having served the country for 35 years the Special Task Force retains its position as the prime counter terrorist outfit in our defence apparatus.

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