Army snipers hunt bomb planters in Sabari


The view from a US sniper hide in Sabari district, Khost province, Afghanistan. Photo by Sergeant Richard Ward.

At about 3 a.m. on Aug. 17, four men scrambled from the open door of an armored vehicle, ran to some bushes along the side of an unfinished road, and laid down in the dirt and darkness. The prone figures were still as the drivers idled and then revved the truck engines, resuming the convoy’s northward journey. The sound of the vehicles drifted into a low rumble, and then silence, but the men in the bushes remained motionless. A few minutes later, one man finally gave the signal to move. Only then did the small group quickly, quietly scramble up the side of a mountain, picking their way over jagged rocks toward the summit of a ridge.

The men were members of a US Army sniper team: one commander, one machine gunner, and two snipers. From a “sniper hide” at their destination – one of the innumerable ridges with commanding views of the road – they would conduct the day’s mission: hunting Afghan bomb emplacers.

The snipers’ location had been chosen with care. American surveillance assets – including manned and unmanned aircraft, an observation blimp, and various towers with cameras – had extensive views the valley surrounding the Sabari district center in Khost province. But the insurgents had somehow figured out that a particular stretch of road tended to be a blind spot for the Americans. Consequently, the rebels liked to plant IEDs after a US patrol passed by the area, and when that same unit (or another one) came back down the road, it would hit the roadside bomb. But on this day, the Americans would be waiting. The soldiers had even warned reconnaissance aircraft to stay out of sight and hearing, to better lure the bomb planters into the open.

The main element of the patrol was led by First Lieutenant Jordan Weiss. His 3rd Platoon of Bravo Company, 1/26th Infantry was conducting a mission up the road to capture a pair of “High Value Targets” (HVTs): alleged Taliban financiers who funneled money into the Afghan insurgency through rich donors in the Arab world. In addition, the US forces had received a tip on a weapons or explosives cache rumored to be hidden in the area. According to the plan, the patrol would conduct the HVT grab and make a thorough search of a nearby village for the cache, while the snipers overwatched the road to spring an ambush on anyone who attempted to set a trap for the returning patrol.

Finally in place in the sniper hide on the ridge, Specialist Benjamin Taylor watched the road through the scope of his rifle, while Sergeant Richard Ward looked through a spotting scope. Meanwhile, Sergeant First Class Nicholas Kenrick posted security and coordinated communications with the platoon’s main element, and Private First Class Jonatan Jaldin, a machine gunner, looked out for any individuals moving toward the sniper team’s position. If anyone approached the small group, the nearby platoon or any number of air assets could be called upon for quick support.

The men watched, and patiently waited. These stretches of quiet concentration can last the better part of a day, and the men were prepared for boredom. Taylor, a 22-year-old on his first sniper deployment, doesn’t “think there is a better job in the army than being a sniper,” but even he admits that it can get dull.

“It does get boring because we don’t really move a lot, whereas everyone else is walking, seeing new terrain, and we’re overwatching the same area,” said Taylor. “And we have to sit there for hours, even if it’s crappy weather.”

They didn’t have to wait long this day, however. Two hours into the mission, at about 5 a.m., Taylor and Ward saw two men approach the side of the road from the direction of a nearby village. It was just light enough to ditch their night vision gear, and the soldiers could see that one of the men was “carrying something wrapped up in a scarf.”

The “two dudes were acting suspicious,” and they were near the site of a previous IED emplacement, according to Taylor. The Americans watched from about 720 meters away as the men talked, moved up the road to “check on something,” then moved back down to the original spot. A local farmer left his qalat, stopped 10 meters from the pair, and said something. After exchanging words with the newcomer, the men moved farther down the road, a respectful distance from the farmer’s residence.

The two Afghans then “did a little digging with their hands,” squatted, and one individual handed something to the other man. At some point the scarf came unraveled, revealing a yellow, cone-shaped object with a rope attached to its top.

“I instantly knew that was an IED,” said Taylor. “There was no way it could be anything else.”

The object turned out to be a “cowbell IED,” a cone-shaped charge that would funnel the blast from 40 pounds of explosives toward its intended target.

As the snipers readied to fire while calling in updates to their platoon leader up north, one of the emplacers left the road and stood off 800 meters from the site, while the other insurgent continued to set up the bomb. He placed rocks around the cowbell charge to hold it in place and point it at the road, before covering it with a bush. Finally, the man pulled out some wires and began connecting them to the yellow cone. Taylor readied his shot.

He knew his DOPE (Data of Previous Engagements). The snipers had taken practice shots at various ranges to determine what their “Mil hold” was for the given range. “Mil” is a degree of angle; because gravity will cause a bullet to drop over long distances, snipers have to adjust by pointing the weapon at a higher angle than a straight shot to the target. They make this adjustment by calculating the distance to the target and moving the crosshairs up to the proper elevation on a set of horizontally stacked stadia lines or dots within the scope. With the correct vertical adjustment at the right distance, the bullet will arc and drop right into the target.

Taylor was 550 meters away. He double-checked his DOPE. He readied to pull the trigger. If the shot was successful, it would be the first kill of his career.

“I think you’re going to hit the rock,” interrupted Ward. The sergeant had previously warned Taylor that he might not have enough clearance at his chosen angle, and he could skim a piece of the ridge about five meters in front of them.

“No, I think I got it,” replied Taylor.

“I don’t know ….”

“I’m pretty sure I got this.”

Taylor held his breath, waited a beat, and pulled the trigger. The gunshot made no noise beyond a short burst of air and a muffled crack – the weapon was suppressed. But that was followed by the sound of a ricochet.

He’d hit the rock, throwing off his shot.

On the side of the road below, the insurgent looked up, dropped everything and ran.

Taylor swore as he racked another round. At the same time, Ward sighted his rifle and attempted a shot with his Barrett .50 caliber rifle. Inexplicably, it jammed, and now it was Ward’s turn to swear. The insurgent had left the road, and was running northwest toward a qalat near the site of the suspected weapons cache. But the fields were muddy, and the man was wearing sandals, both of which slowed him down.

“We can’t really run that fast through those fields, and we wear boots,” said Taylor.


Specialist Benjamin Taylor (far right) discusses his first sniper kill with Staff Sergeant Joshua Pless-Mosley (far left) and First Lieutenant Don Pate. Click image to view. Photo by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.

The specialist drew down on the runner and fired again. The shot missed slightly wide, just over the man’s left shoulder. Taylor racked a third round. He adjusted his aim a hair to the right, held his breath, and pulled the trigger again. The rifle made its suppressed bark. At that instant, the insurgent turned his head to look backwards, and the bullet caught him in the forehead a millisecond later, killing him instantly. The body crumpled into the field.

“He’s down!” said Taylor and Ward simultaneously.

“Nice job,” added Ward. “Nice shot.”

The dead insurgent’s partner had gotten away, immediately ducking behind the cover of some trees from his cautious position 800 meters distant.

Soon after, the main element of the platoon returned down the road to do Battlefield Damage Assessment (BDA), collect the body, meet with the village elders about the dead man and the insurgent who’d gotten away, and search the cache site. They found it – a single IED with an initiator switch – and the soldiers had successfully captured the HVTs earlier in the patrol. The day’s tally: two captured IEDs, two “high value” detainees, and one dead bomb emplacer.

As the American patrol assessed the scene around the body of the dead insurgent, perhaps a hundred villagers came out of their nearby qalats to watch. The Kiowa attack-reconnaissance helicopters returned to the area to make low loping passes, as their pilots scanned the crowds for men with rocket-propelled grenades.

“When something like that happens it’s basically the biggest show in town,” said CW2 Bobby Guffey, one of the Kiowa pilots. “So the whole village comes out, stands on line, and watches.”

First Lieutenant Weiss, the platoon leader, met with village elders to ask questions about the insurgent cell. Their reaction was routine.

“[The local elders had the] same reaction they’ve had the other four times we’ve killed guys – they do their best ‘disbelief’ impression,” later summarized Captain Aaron Tapalman, commander of Bravo Company 1/26th Infantry. He went on to paraphrase a typical conversation with village elders:

“‘You were mistaken, this is a good man, he would never do the things you

accused him of.’

‘No, he was putting in an IED.’

‘You are mistaken, he was a good man.’

‘No, I’m telling you, he WAS PUTTING IN AN IED, so we shot him.’

‘Okay, you are right, he was a bad man.’

The insurgent was quickly determined to be a resident of the village; identification had been aided by the angle of the shot. Though the powerful .300 Winchester Magnum round fired by the sniper’s rifle had made a ruin of the insurgent’s head, the man’s face remained discernible.

Snipers have a somewhat different perspective than other types of soldier; while they typically stand off hundreds or even thousands of meters from a kill, they also usually get an intimate and immediate glimpse of their grim handiwork through the rifle’s powerful optics. And in case Taylor didn’t get enough perspective through his scope, he was later present when the medics conducted an autopsy of the body, in his other role as an assistant combat lifesaver in the first aid station.

Despite this, the young specialist wasn’t bothered by any moral misgivings or the carnage of his first kill.

“It’s honestly part of the job,” he explained with a shrug. “Because it’s either [the insurgent] lives and he goes on to kill one of our guys, or we remove him from the equation and … I don’t have to worry about my guys getting messed up on IEDs. We’ve already had a lot of [Traumatic Brain Injuries] and shrapnel [injuries] from those.”

“I sleep very well at night,” he added.

The specialist’s first recorded sniper kill would enter the books at 550 meters with a new Army weapon called the XM2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle, “a beautiful rifle,” according to Taylor. Although he was angry and “disappointed” that he’d skimmed the rock and taken three shots to get his man, he was satisfied with the result.

“It felt great getting rid of one of the guys trying to hurt our guys,” said Taylor. “Maybe that will stop them from emplacing more IEDs. That’s what I hope for, anyways.”

Three days later, on Aug. 20, Taylor acquired his second confirmed kill: he shot another insurgent bomb emplacer at a spot six kilometers away from the previous engagement. Only this time, his fellow soldiers nabbed the man’s partner as well. Corporal Andrew Otero and Private First Class Von Bolante shared credit for the other kill.

One of the insurgents killed on Aug. 20 turned out to be a popular local mullah from another village a few kilometers up the road. All three dead insurgents are suspected to have been part of the same roadside bomb cell. The Americans had closed the blind spot in their reconnaissance assets.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.



  • Neonmeat says:

    Good work guys get these cowards.
    Great article.

  • DaveR says:

    “One of the insurgents killed on Aug. 20 turned out to be a popular local mullah from another village a few kilometers up the road.”
    How can you trust or believe anyone in that country?!
    Great read…nice work boys!

  • Nic says:

    Snipers are the most powerful weapon in the military. Ironically they get the least attention. A study of snipers starts with Zaitsev and Konig. Here is a reading list:
    1. Enemy at the Gates, Crag
    2. American Sniper, Kyle
    3. Sniper, Cavallaro and Larsen
    4. Trigger Men, Halberstadt
    5. Sniper, Gilbert.
    I truncated most of the titles. After the Marines had taken Fallujah the Iraqis made a point of saying that they wanted the snipers out of Fallujah. Semper Fi !

  • TR says:

    Sleep well young man. Good work and nice shot!

  • George C. says:

    I highly recommend Sniping: An Illustrated History, by Pat Farey. For those like me who read at the speed of lips and like pictures, this is an awesome book. Here’s a link: //

  • Ian says:

    Great article. However, I humbly request that next time you do not include the names and picture of the snipers. I have had the unfortunate “honor” of having a bounty placed on my head because someone released my name and the name of the other person on my sniper team. Thank you very much for reporting on the importance and effectiveness of our work.

  • Bill Ardolino says:

    Ian – those mentioned in the article were given the opportunity to redact names.

  • Ian says:

    In that case I retract my previous comment, minus the great article part! Thanks.

  • Mr T says:

    And what excuse did the farmer have for apparently directing the bombers away from his farm? Did he know they had a bomb? Was he even questioned? Did he lie about the encounter?
    If he talked to the guys and knew they were planting a bomb but just let them, he therefore assisted them. He must have known them. So even if he can’t tell on them right then, he would certainly have the change to turn them in later. He knew.
    The IED emplacers would not be effective if they had to hide from the locals also. They are part and parcel of the problem and there should be some form of retribution for their actions or inactions.

  • Allen says:

    Nice article. Great shot. A special thanks to those who put their lives at risk killing these terrorists, we can never thank you all enough.

  • Jason D says:

    I’ve seen this type of work before, although in an up close and deadly urban environment in the eastern part of Ramadi, Iraq. The regular straight leg line platoons were getting nailed day in and day out in their humvees doing predictable patrols. Then the BCT allowed beefed sniper teams and marine ANGLICO teams to set up clandestine hides in buildings. Before you knew it, the insurgents were finally reacting to the Americans, as opposed to the Americans reacting to the insurgent attacks.

  • Max says:

    Nice work, men. God bless our troops

  • Mirage says:

    Great work, God bless our troops and God bless America!

  • Hammerin Hank says:

    Fantastic first person account.
    You just wonder, though, how much of this (and for how long) will it take to finally convince these people they are on the losing side. And being on the winning side (i.e., staying alive) is probably all that matters to these people.
    You also have to ask: is this all worth it? As worthless as these scum are, do they really pose a threat to the USA? Can we keep them “contained” some other way?

  • Charu says:

    Great job and great shooting! However, it is too bad that one or more of them couldn’t have been captured to provide intel on where the IEDs were being manufactured or the supply chain. The source of these weapons is a more crucial target to incapacitate.

  • John R says:

    We’re proud of our infantrymen! Great job. And thanks to LWJ – about the only place to get this perspective on the war.

  • KG2V says:

    Another recommended set – the 5 volume “Death From Afar” by Chandler and Chandler – I also have a signed copy of White Feather – by Col Chandler and Sgt Hathcock

  • TEM says:

    Bill-great research and article! I also appreciate you clarifying a very valid point made by Ian,in regard to the release of names. That was the first thought that entered my mind when I originally read your article.
    This seems to be very similar to the strategy that the USMC snipers employeed along the “Irish route” in Baghdad to stop insurgents from planting IED’s.
    The enemies of freedom,who have thought planting IED’s could be done in relative saftey, a memo to you. The game has changed and its only a matter of time before your ticket is punch for a one way trip to martydom,with carry on luggage only.
    Again,very nice work Bill.

  • kit says:

    Nice work soldiers! Hang tough. 🙂

  • Coldwarrior57 says:

    Well My only problem is how We deal with the villagers. That guy that was covering for the dead turd, should have been shot. and then tell them that we dont tolerate dissrespect. They dont have the western mindset. We cannot treat them like we treat ourselves. It sounds calloused but they would respect us more if we treated them the way they treat each other. Untill we get that idea, we should just pack it up n come home. Either go big or go HOME.

  • Tim says:

    Your forgot to mention the book: Simo Hayha – Finland’s leading sniper of the 1939-40 Winter War.
    He is the legendary Finnish sniper who killed 542 Soviet troops using a relatively primitive Russian made Mosin-Nagant Model 28 rifle with no scope.

  • Civy says:

    A good piece of story telling, but I’d give the shooters a FAIL. You have hours to set up a shot and bounce it off a rock? The Barrett jams? Those would be 2 dead snipers if they were facing any kind of talent. Hopefully they learned from those mistakes, or they’re going to have short careers.

  • Soccer says:

    The Taliban deny this happened, and they say that they killed 8 US soldiers in “massive guerilla sniping attacks” and also wounded 15 other US soldiers. They also said that “1 mujahid was slightly injured in the gun battle”.
    They also said they destroyed the sniping outpost (hide) with grenades after the Americans retreated after the attack.
    I read this on AMEF forum. Edit this part out from the post if you don’t want me mentioning the forum by name.

  • Eddie D. says:

    Great work, keep it up.

  • Dr. S. Anderson says:

    As the sister of Specialist Taylor, is an honor to have him serve and to do so with such passion. We are proud of you brother! Thanks to all of you who show your support for him and all the troops. May God protect you during the rest of your tour.

  • eastcoastseeker says:

    Bill, much respect for all that you have done over the years reporting this long War.
    To those at the tip of the spear; You honor us with your service
    your blood and your dedication to this just war. We can never repay the debt that is owed to you and your families for your sacrifice.
    The Greatest Generation ? They’re on their 3rd, 4th. or 5th tour
    of the long war.
    Never forgive, never forget, never give up until the day you die.
    Semper Fi

  • bth says:

    could you describe further and perhaps photograph a cowbell IED? I haven’t heard that phrase before and am wondering what it is

  • gitmo-joe says:

    This is an excellent article. Its nice to see us fighting with shrewd intelligence. We should not be misdirected by ‘hating’ the farmer or villagers for not being totally honest with us. These poor slobs live in a world run by crazed gangs of illiterates with AKs. A Taliban will happily shoot one of their children if they do not do as told. That is why we cannot trust any of them. But hating them ends up feeding the bad guys recruiting efforts. Most of these villagers never heard of 9/11. All we can do is kill bad guys and at some point get out. If they hit America again we go back and hit them very hard for 6 months and leave. We simply repeat this until they decide its not fun anymore.

  • Armchair General says:

    Pardon my amateur interruption, but wouldn’t it save men and resources if more Sniper Nests were set up in conjunction with mounted area cameras to provide far-reaching surveillance with kinetic response?
    You could REALLY put the fear of death into these supposed “lovers of death” who claim to seek martyrdom, if you set up enough sniper nests covering enough area.
    Just think, Taliban would have to deal with local Afghans trusting ISAF more and more plus just trying to stay alive day by day so while struggling to plant their No.1 weapon, the IED.
    Turbans are gonna roll…

  • Cass says:

    Thanks Bill A.,
    You really captured the essence of boredom interrupted by quick frenzied activity, followed by more boredom. Really excellent! I’m not surprised the Barrett jammed, the moon dust has a way of truly fouling almost anything, the particles are so fine. My hubby took me out to a local range and set up a Barrett for me to try, and even here, after we’d had a considerable, for SE Texas, amount of hanging dust in the air, which is nothing compared to Afgh, the gun jammed. Thank you!

  • gitsum says:

    Nice shooting. Case of beer for Taylor!

  • billie morris says:

    great job god be with each and every one .My prayers are with are nation.

  • DCH says:

    Very interesting article but I think it is wrong on one point. You state that “because gravity will cause a bullet to drop over long distances, snipers have to adjust by pointing the weapon at a higher angle than a straight shot to the target”. In fact you would aim the weapon at a lower angle if you are shooting upward or downward than you would if you are shooting at a target on the same level as you are.

  • gary siebel says:

    Seems like that farmer is the key to controlling that part of the road.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    I understand the Coalition policy not to report enemy casualties or body counts but one has to believe there are some Marine snipers who blew away Carlos Hathcock’s kill records during the Anbar campaign alone.

  • Goatweed says:

    If this were a movie, the sniper would have aimed for the bomb and thereby gotten the farmer and the taliban.
    The accounting would be tricky, who gets credit or blame for the death of the farmer?
    But it would be a caution to those who collaborate with the enemy.


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram