Two Letters Re: .223 For Long Range Sniping?

Dear Jim,
I’d like to kick in my two cents worth on the Blackwater snipers in Najaf, seeing as how I was in country when it happened and know a number of the people involved.

There appears to be a great deal of Monday morning quarterbacking going on regards this incident, so I will lend some background on it.

The entire thing started when US troops tried to shut down Moqtada Al Sadr’s newspaper and arrested a number of his henchmen (I won’t call them lieutenants, because they’re not worthy of it). The response from Sadr’s followers was rather unexpected and widespread. It blew up all the way from previously quiet Shiite areas in the south to the environs around Baghdad (to include the back wall of BIAP [Baghdad International Airport] where we personally took down a number of fence jumpers on the second night of the “uprising.”)

In a short period of time, the governors residence in Najaf was surrounded and cut off from the outside world with only a small PSD [Personal Security Detail] inside, a handful of Marines and a number of principles from both local government and CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority]. This was a lightly equipped bodyguard detail whose usual duties were running protection on the roads, shuttling their principles between meetings. Again, this was a very quiet area. Next thing they knew, they were surrounded by a jabbering horde of Mahdi militia. They got on the phone to Green Zone HQ in Baghdad and filed a SITREP that read something like, “Surrounded by swarms of jabbering, screaming brown ones firing wildly. Send Help, over.”

Blackwater responded to this situation by sending their infamous “Little Birds” down there with the sniper team and as much ammo as they could carry. This team was drawn from the perimeter over watch detail that works the environs around the Green Zone. They use accurized .223s because they are dealing with urban ranges and fleeting targets; mostly 100-400 yards, with the speed of a follow-up shot becoming a critical factor. Very hard to hit running, crouching people who don’t want to get shot, even for seasoned snipers (which [if] you work for Blackwater in that job, you’re a Tier 1 operator). You invariably tap out a few rounds at them as they scamper between their rat holes. Far easier to do this with a heavy barreled .223 than a mule kick .308 or Winchester Magnum.

The .223, firing Black Hills Match, does very good work in that environment, I assure you. It also did decent enough work down in Najaf where the range was a bit stretched.

Would an M1A have been a better “Choice” for the Najaf engagement? Technically speaking, sure. So would a couple of MG-42s and some 81 mike-mike mortar. But when you start factoring in ammo load, the capacity of that particular helicopter and the limited blade time they were able to devote to just Najaf, you are drifting into “perhaps.” There were other locations under the same sort of threat, but only two little birds, so air lift was definitely limited.

When the call came down, these guys had about 15 minutes to saddle up and roll, so they went with what they had and they did some serious killing with what they brought, holding off a large number of attackers for several days. (Who were about the same caliber as the looter bands encountered in “Patriots”, I’d venture. Determined, ruthless amateurs.)

So, the lesson to be learned from all of that? Grab the good ground, hold onto it and be able to hit whomever with whatever you have at hand. Rarely in these situations do you get to set things up the way you want to, so you roll with what you have to and you make it count. That’s where training and experience come in. Pit the expert with a .223 against a gifted amateur with a .308 and the expert will invariably win.

And for those who doubt it, the .223 has killed a lot of people over the years. I know, I’ve seen the bodies. And for those who know how fast ammo gets burned up in a firefight…well…we can carry lots and lots of .223. When you’ve got 500 meters of open, flat ground between you and their “spear points gleaming” well, I’ll give you a head start for the sake of fairness, but you’re unlikely to get to the wall. That is how it played out at Najaf in the end. – Mosby


Dear Mr. Rawles,
You were quite correct to state “here we go again!” when one of your readers cited the Najaf video as proof that the 5.56 made a good precision rifle round. I happen to have come in contact with the Sniper shown in that video, through From memory (as I can’t find the discussion in the archives) he mentioned that he was having to shoot the bad guys several times (7 or 8 is the number in my mind) to take them out of the fight. He also said that wished he’d had a [.308] AR-10 or SR-25 for that engagement or at least a 6.8mm SPR, if memory serves.- Griff