It seems there's been one such enemy since the Revolutionary War, only a matter of time until one popped up in Iraq.
Elusive sniper saps US morale in Baghdad
Commanders weigh their options as 'Juba' notches up more kills
Rory Carroll in Baghdad
Friday August 5, 2005
They have never seen Juba. They hear him, but by then it's too late: a shot rings out and another US soldier slumps dead or wounded.
There is never a follow-up shot, never a chance for US forces to identify the origin, to make the hunter the hunted. He fires once and vanishes.
Juba is the nickname given by American forces to an insurgent sniper operating in southern Baghdad. They do not know his appearance, nationality or real name, but they know and fear his skill.
"He's good," said Specialist Travis Burress, 22, a sniper with the 1-64 battalion based in Camp Rustamiyah. "Every time we dismount I'm sure everyone has got him in the back of their minds. He's a serious threat to us."
Gun attacks occasionally pepper the battalion's foot and mounted patrols, but the single crack of what is thought to be a Tobuk(SVD) sniper rifle inspires particular dread.
Since February, the killing of at least two members of the battalion and the wounding of six more have been attributed to Juba. Some think it is also he that has picked off up to a dozen other soldiers.
In a war marked by sectarian bombings and civilian casualties, Juba is unusual in targeting only coalition troops, a difficult quarry protected by armoured vehicles, body armour and helmets.
He waits for soldiers to dismount, or stand up in a Humvee turret, and aims for gaps in their body armour, the lower spine, ribs or above the chest. He has killed from 200 metres away.
"It was the perfect shot," the battalion commander, Lt Col Kevin Farrell, said of one incident. "Blew out the spine.
"We have different techniques to try to lure him out, but he is very well trained and very patient. He doesn't fire a second shot."
Some in the battalion want marksmen to occupy rooftops overlooking supply routes, Juba's hunting ground, to try to put him in the cross-hairs.
"It would be a pretty shitty assignment because he's good," said Spc Burress. "I think it's a sniper's job to get a sniper, and it'd probably take all of us to get him."
American snipers operate in teams of at least two people, a shooter and a spotter, the latter requiring more experience since he must use complicated formulae to calculate factors such as wind strength and drag coefficients.
Some worry that Juba is on his way to becoming a resistance hero, acclaimed by those Iraqis who distinguish between "good" insurgents, who target only Americans, and "bad" insurgents who harm civilians.
The insurgent grapevine celebrates an incident last June when a four-strong marine scout sniper team was killed in Ramadi, all with shots to the head.
Unlike their opponents, US snipers in Baghdad seldom get to shoot. Typically they hide on rooftops and use thermal imaging and night vision equipment to monitor areas. If there is suspicious activity, they summon aircraft or ground patrols.
"We are professionals. There is a line between a maniac with a gun and a sniper," said Mike, 31, a corporal with a reconnaissance sniper platoon who did not want to his surname to be used.
He spoke during a 24-hour mission on a roof during which his team ate junk food and urinated into a bottle. During daylight they lay on the ground, immobile, to avoid being seen. "It's not a glamorous life," he said.
There was no sign of Juba, who tended to operate further east, but the team spotted mortar flashes and fed the coordinates to base.
Mike said he had shot 14 people in Somalia, three in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. "It's not like you expect it to be, an emotional high. You just think about the wind, the range, then it's over with."
Sniper fire is only of the threats for an American military that has suffered heavy losses this week.
Yesterday another soldier was killed in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, adding to the 21 who died in attacks on Monday and Wednesday.
Roadside bombs account for most of the lives lost, and the size and design of the explosions has led investigators to conclude that the insurgents are learning bombmaking methods from other terrorist organisations.
Yesterday's New York Times reported that the techniques used by Hezbollah in Lebanon were increasingly being seen in roadside bombs in Iraq.
An unnamed senior American commander quoted by the paper said bombs using shaped charges closely matched the bombs that Hezbollah used against Israel.
"Our assessment is that they are probably going off to 'school' to learn how to make bombs that can destroy armoured vehicles," he said.