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Snipers needed to battle urban warfare


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A PSR90 sniper rifle being marketed by POF. -Dawn
A PSR90 sniper rifle being marketed by POF. -Dawn

ISLAMABAD: Simpletons may continue analysing ad nauseam the gripping drama of a cornered lone gunman holding the Islamabad police at bay for hours, but perhaps the lasting memory would be that the establishment and the police emerged poorly from the fiasco.

Security experts believe a trained sniper could have downed gunman Mohammad Sikandar much before the allegedly foolhardy courage of politician Zamarud Khan forced the police do that, ending the tense six-hour stand off, broadcast live by the television channels.

It came as a surprise during the postmortem of the high drama on the channels that contrary to their oft-repeated claims the Islamabad police do not have a true sniper in their ranks.

There is a bigger surprise there – no security force in the country, not even the army, has snipers specially trained for such situations.

What they surely have are sharp shooters and marksmen, who gain that position or reputation on the strength of record during their normal training.

But their skill is limited to close range and in the open only, while snipers are trained to hit their target precisely, in one shot and the split second he becomes visible in his hiding place.

That fine difference between a sharpshooter and a highly trained sniper notwithstanding, the police forces in every big city of the country have been announcing that their snipers would be in position to protect religious processions or other public events needing protection against terrorist attacks. Those are audacious claims, to say the least.

Islamabad police claim there are 791 trained commandos in its Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), many of whom have had specialised sniper training at the Sihala police training school, or the ATS Centre at Simly Dam or courses conducted by US experts at the H-11 Police Lines. Their performance in real situations, however, defied the claim.

“We know who are the best shots in the ranks and deploy them whenever required,” insisted a senior police officer to ward off criticism.

But he acknowledged that “there exists no organised system to train them taking precision shots at a target from a concealed location from a considerable distance.”

His only consolation was that neither did the police of Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar possess that capability where the crime mafia and terrorist groups had been much more active and much longer.

That sounds true. When terrorists stormed an Ahmadi place of worship in Lahore in May 2010, they shot dead 82 people openly, with the television channels broadcasting their ‘leisurely’ massacre live almost all the time and the Lahore police felt immobilised as they lacked expertise and the equipment to shoot at the marauding gunmen from a distance of 500 metres from concealed positions.

“I would still say the authorities were protecting the terrorists. The police could have shot down the gunmen from the same spot the TV cameras were placed,” said Mumtaz Mirza, an irate but naïve survivor of the massacre.

Two years later, a full-blown operation by the Karachi police failed to dislodge the men of gang leader Uzair Baloch from their Lyari lair for the same reasons.

“We tried to get some crack shots from among the police training college trainers, formerly of the army. But by the time the authorities granted our request, the operation was called off,” the field commander, SP Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam, told Dawn. He was recently reverted to DSP rank, not for that failure but for a different reason.

Like most other police departments in the country, the sharp shooters of Islamabad police have six G-3 field rifles, fitted with telescopes, for snipping, an activity they are not trained for.

Despite its long range, the rifle is not suited for precision shooting because of the recoil in its loading mechanism.

They also have four US-made, AR-10 - a weapon the US army discarded in the 1950s. Mercifully, the capital police do possess two proper sniper rifles – the Soviet-era Dragunov procured from China.

It has an effective range of about 800 metres and, being light and handy, one of the most widely used sniper gun around the world

With the rise of urban warfare, the need for snipers is being realised not by just civil forces but also the Pakistan armed forces, particularly after the terrorist attacks on the GHQ in Rawalpindi, Kamra airbase and Mehran naval aviation base and the army operations in Lal Masjid and in Swat.

Militants have also stormed other sensitive locations of the civil and armed forces and engaged them into firefights for hours.

“We have learned many things, especially from Lal Masjid and Swat operations, where snipping had been more effective than deploying many troops,” said a brigadier serving in the infantry.

Interestingly, it was while battling with Dragunov-armed militants during Swat operation that Pakistan army realised fully the need of snipers in its ranks.

It had learnt the lesson that SSG commandos could not take out individual deadly snipers ensconced inside the Lal Masjid without storming the mosque.

Military sources said that the army had rifle marksmen in each unit, who carried the standard weapons like the G-3 rifle, SMG 7.62, the term for AK-47 in the army, and the SMG 9mm (MP-5).

Now, army is in the process of raising specialised group of snipers, a programme the military’s public relations office ISPR said it was not aware.

But the civil forces, including the police, apparently have no such programme.

“This is because nobody is thinking to have specialised group,” said Fayyaz Turo, a former Inspector General Police of militancy-rocked Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. “The interior ministry has not planned for up-grading the civil armed forces to match the changing scenario.”

Even in Karachi, the city worst hit by urban conflicts, the outlook and operational mechanism of police has not changed much in years.

“Most of the tactical up-gradation in police force is made by the personnel of the armed forces – but the fact is that not even Pakistan has specialised and dedicated snipers in its ranks,” said a Deputy Inspector General of Police of the city.

Comments (30) Closed

vigilant Aug 22, 2013 10:02am

An extremely important issue raised by Dawn, Pakistan need to raise sniper specialized sniper units in the Army & civil armed forces as well. I really don't understand why don't we learn from mistakes? or at least video games where weapon of choice is sniper. Why our system is so obsolete? even after loosing 40,000 innocent Pakistanis

Ahsan Aug 22, 2013 01:31pm

this is so embarrassing that i couldnt read it all.

Proud Pakistani Aug 22, 2013 01:38pm

Ooo so this is the reason. How hard will it be to train a sharp shooter into a sniper. Send someone abroad, to our so called friends and let them train the first squad. These will be future trainers.

So train the trainers and let the ball roll but then again the monkeys dont care about my country do they?

Waqas Aug 22, 2013 01:55pm


sami ul haq Aug 22, 2013 03:50pm

really an embarrassing news for every Pakistani. Where are think tanks???? Policy makers??? Oh Pak army dont tell me you are also in line despite of having hell of resources. is there no one out there who can draft policies rationally??? really this country is running by a divine power.

Khan Aug 22, 2013 04:40pm

We are too slow to accept challenges and change outselves to deal with the problems we face today. We need a modern army to fight the terrorists. Govt will have to learn from other countries.

Anees Aug 22, 2013 05:14pm

The only snipers in the country are the Black Water agents like Raimond Davis was.

Muhammad Musa Aug 22, 2013 05:30pm

Good one, writer has studied and searched very well. This might initiate some pressure on authorities.

Amir Saeed Aug 22, 2013 05:49pm

Wrong information regarding Army. They hage best snipers i SSG ranks followed by infantry snipers in every unit trained specially as sniper as a separate speciality at Quetta on Styer Sniper Rifles and heavy SNIPER RIFLES RM-50 for beyond 1400 meters target.

There are many stories when snipers from army took their targets with precision.

Iqbal Aug 22, 2013 06:29pm

and who will finance the development of snipers? and upgrade of police system?

Agha Ata Aug 22, 2013 07:30pm

Sometimes, I feel that we deserve what we are getting.

delhiwala Aug 22, 2013 07:49pm

@vigilant: my dear it costs money in terms of manpower, eqpt and training. can you afford to do it.

GM Aug 22, 2013 08:20pm

It is not only embarrasing,it is shameful.

concerned citizen Aug 22, 2013 08:44pm

Does anyone ever check today's web-published articles for grammar? Sorry for being picky but the standard of grammar and English on Dawn and The Express Tribune is stooping to 5th grade levels, with basic grammatical and sentence structure errors. I know English is not our first language but if you want to use it, then at least use it properly. I'd suggest Kaplan GMAT Sentence Correction Book for all your writers.

naghman qureshi Aug 22, 2013 08:47pm

excellent idea.these people should be in all areas and take out all anti state elements,however,everyone is afraid to give the order because they fear judicial review,this was told to me by an sp in lahore

ali Aug 22, 2013 09:14pm

it is a joke I will not bother with a full stop

atx Aug 22, 2013 10:02pm

Well the navy has such capabilities as they showed in pns mehran operation..

Shahab Aug 22, 2013 11:09pm

Wow!!! truly an embarrassment for the Pakistan.

Umar Agha Aug 23, 2013 02:10am

While I agree that trained snipers are required in LEAs, the army actually has trained snipers (with specialized bolt-action and semi-auto long-range precision rifles) both in "regular" units and special operations forces (SSG and others). Even the Anti Narcotics Force (ATF), a civilian entity, has trained snipers operating the Barret M82 "50 cal" special application scoped rifle and others. Clearly the author's limited sources in the armed forces were not aware of these facts (which can actually be accessed through public databases, unit pictures, online videos and other forums).

PK Aug 23, 2013 03:38am

Thanks for sharing this eye opening information. It is pernicious to trust Pakistan Public sector, the whole bureaucracy is paralyzed and doing absolutely nothing. I will bet my life, that if you investigate any of their claims for the past 5, 10 or 50 years, that majority of them will be complete lies. To not have the Draganov in any police arsenal, is ludicrous. It is beyond embarrassing, I'm sorry but is comical.

Unknown Aug 23, 2013 09:20am

Does the writer even know what a sniper rifle is?

Sure Dragunov is one, but it is old. Although more accurate than AK but really there are much better rifles.

AR-10 is the civilian semi-auto rifle. Military never used it. This platform is still very popular around the world and never dropped.

Keep in mind that real sniper rifles are single shot rifles (although with magazines to hold more than 1). They do not usually are semi-auto, definitely not automatic.

True Indian Aug 23, 2013 10:26am

"Now, army is in the process of raising specialised group of snipers, a programme the military

Syed Asad Ali Shah Aug 23, 2013 10:33am

I have heard from somewhere that sniper training is also included in Pak army training. so I dont know where they were at the time of Sikanders incident. I think so sniper shooting is not much diffcult beacuse it has stand and rifle scope for accurate focus. Whatever people say but Pakistan Zindabad.

nauman Aug 23, 2013 10:44am

i can't believe it. i simply can't believe it. oh god they don't even have the right GUNS? they better contact taliban for one. hahaha

ferhan syed Aug 23, 2013 01:26pm

Our anti-terrorism specialists (if there are any) do know all these weapons and tactics. But the problem is that we as a nation are confused and unable to distinguish between holy warriors and terrorists. Unless we distinguish between the two, our law-enforcement agencies will remain confused, demoralized and lethargic in addressing this menace.

Akram Aug 23, 2013 01:34pm

maybe this will help bring order to Pakistans streets.

asfi Aug 23, 2013 10:45pm

Strange, I think Pakistan Army has the best snipers with specialist weapons as well.

fahad satti Aug 24, 2013 12:56am

IMHO, snipers are not a very effective solution to our problems. Sure they look good in movies and are one of the most famous weapon of choice in video games but Pakistan, today, is involved largely, in urban warfare. A sniper with effective range of 500-800 meters can be a good asset if he is in an open field but how often can one find a 500 meter clear line-of-sight in any city? A sharp shooter on the other hand can take down a target at 50 meters which is closer to the range of most encounters. In my opinion if the police is standing more than 150-200 meters back from the point of interest then it has no business being involved in combat there at all. In such cases, SSG should be called in. SSG, besides its traditional role, is also a very effective anti-terrorist organization, capable of taking down criminal gangs. as well. P.S Pakistan Army does have snipers. The author pointed that out as well.

ahmed ali Aug 24, 2013 06:33pm

@delhiwala: My dear you are short-sighted and biased otherwise you would have contributed positively. Pakistani armed forces are quite capable and can learn from their deficiencies and counter threats effectively.

Ash Aug 24, 2013 09:25pm

AR10 was retired in 1950? Sorry DAWN but where are you getting your information from? Wikipedia? The Armalite Inc Licensed AR10B is still used by SWAT, LVPD and the US army as well as our ATS in Islamabad.

Secondly the Armalite Inc AR10 variants have seen action in two gulf wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, along with countless high risk roles within law enforcement in the US, Mexico, Bolivia and the FBI HRT. So i would urge you to verify the validity of such information before it goes to press.