The elite Green Berets have been deployed to help defeat Islamic State insurgents accused of beheading children as young as 11 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.
US Army Special Forces soldiers are to train Mozambican marines for the next two months to counter the rapidly escalating insurgency from ISIS-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.
It comes after the US officially listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization last week because of its links to ISIS, who it pledged allegiance to in 2018 and who claimed its first attack in June 2019.
Mozambique, in southern Africa, represents the worrying spread of Islamic insurgency on the continent. Other nations facing ISIS-linked violence include Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Libya.
The deployment of the Green Berets is “to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism,” the US Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, said, The Times reported.
According to an Insider report last month, the Green Berets are called on to deploy worldwide, build lasting relationships with local groups friendly towards the United States, and then teach those groups how to kill effectively. The SF soldiers then begin going on missions with the locals and fight side-by-side.
The situation in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, which began in 2017, became even more urgent last year, with up to 3,500 fighters regularly engaging with the military to capture key towns.
Children as young as 11 years old have been executed, according to Save the Children, that has spoken to displaced families that have described horrific executions by the Islamic insurgents.
One mother, Elsa, 28, whose name has been changed, told Save the Children: “That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children.
“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”
Impoverished Mozambique, in southern Africa, had been relying on foreign mercenaries, mainly from South Africa, who have also been accused of human rights abuses.
An Amnesty International report found that both sides committed war crimes, with government forces responsible for abuses against civilians, something it has denied.
Cabo Delgado has a population of 2.3 million, most of whom are Muslim, and is one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique with high illiteracy and unemployment rates, according to the BBC.
Al-Shabab, not to be confused with the Somalian al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group of a similar name, means The Youth in Arabic.
It has found ready recruits among the unemployed young people from the area, al-Jazeera reported.
Although a ruby deposit and gas field were discovered in Cabo Delgado in 2009 and 2010, creating dreams of a better life for locals, these were soon undermined by violence and extreme flooding, the BBC noted.
What do snipers think about before they pull the trigger? There are dozens of possible considerations that go into a sniper’s shot, everything from wind to an escape plan should things suddenly go sideways, current and former US military sniper instructors told Insider.
A sniper must be able to put accurate and effective fire on targets that may be moving at distances far beyond the range of regular infantry, which are trained to shoot at targets out to a few hundred meters. Snipers are trained to shoot targets possibly thousands of meters away.
To shoot at those greater distances, which sometimes requires pushing a weapon beyond its limits, snipers have to consider things like target selection and priority, size, distance to target, whether or not the bullet is lethal at that range, and, if the target is moving, target speed and direction.
‘We know what a bullet does’
There are also the ballistics – anything that affects the flight path of the bullet that could cause the sniper to miss.
Extensive ballistics knowledge is one of several key differentiators between snipers – expert marksmen – and other troops who are simply good shots, according to a former instructor.
There are both internal and external ballistics, he said.
Internal is everything happening inside the rifle and includes things like bullet size and weight, which affect to what degree a bullet will be impacted by the various external factors, and the barrel twist, which affects the spin drift of the round at greater distances.
External ballistics are everything happening to the bullet once it exits the barrel. Among the external factors that can affect the bullet’s flight path are atmospherics like wind, humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and air density.
Wind speed and direction, which can change suddenly and inexplicably, are particularly important because they account for most missed shots, US Marine Corps Scout Sniper instructor Staff Sgt. Joshua Coulter told Insider.
Snipers need to know wind at not only their position, but also at various points along the bullet’s path and at the target. To get a wind reading for the distant points, the sniper looks for makeshift wind indicators like trash, clothes on a clothesline, smoke, or really anything that might be blowing in the wind.
Snipers have to take most, if not all, of these factors into account and correct before they fire a shot to hit a distant target – with the knowledge that their first shot is likely to be their best chance at striking it.
There are electronic tools that snipers can use to simplify the process to determine things like range, gather atmospheric data, and generate a firing solution. Snipers try not to rely on these though, but if they do use them, they verify the data.
The much more important tool snipers have is their collection data on previous engagements, which contains detailed information on how the sniper, the rifle, and the bullet performed in certain conditions in the real, not digital, world.
“At the end of the day, the bullet is not going to lie to you,” US Army sniper instructor Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Jones told Insider.
“We really don’t need a lot of technology to be able to operate,” he said, explaining that “given a weapon system with an optic and data on previous engagements, we are pretty effective at doing our job as far as engaging targets goes.”
‘That is when you want to fire the weapon’
There are also marksmanship fundamentals like shooting position, trigger control, and breathing that the sniper has to take into consideration. Through training, many of these things will become second nature for a sniper.
“Out in the real world, you’re shooting over a Humvee, shooting out of a window, on a rooftop, on a knee, standing, standing while moving,” he said. “There are so many alternate shooting techniques we run through because of the realities of the battlefield.”
A proper shooting position improves recoil management, preventing the explosion that violently forces the bullet out of the rifle from disturbing the sight picture and complicating follow-on shots.
For similar reasons, it is also important that snipers have good control of the trigger, applying pressure smoothly when firing, and have relaxed, natural breathing.
“You want to breathe as natural as possible,” Jones said, explaining that snipers wait for a “natural pause” in ther breathing. “That is when you want to fire the weapon,” he said.
Snipers also have to think about mission-specific considerations such as muzzle flash, lens glare on the scope if the sniper is shooting into the sun, and barrel blast that can blow out vegetation or kick up dust. Any of these things can affect concealment and give away a shooter’s position.
Stealth and concealment, though they are crucial sniper skills, are not necessarily required for every mission, but when they are, snipers have to be prepared for the possibility that their position is compromised by their shot.
It is critical that snipers have an escape plan, “a tenable egress route and sourced contingency assets and fire support agencies in the event their position is compromised post-shot,” Coulter said.
‘Somebody that can get the job done’
“There are a million things that go into being a sniper, and you have to be good at all of them,” an Army sniper previously told Insider. That said, when it comes to the shot process, “everybody is going to have their checklist” that they run through, Jones said.
And in many, but not necessarily all, cases, there is also planning before the mission.
Coulter said that ideally a sniper’s “ability to conduct a mission analysis prior to crossing the line of departure or taking the shot will allow them to occupy a brief position of advantage when relatively compared to the enemy, the terrain and current weather.”
Doing so increases “the odds of mission success,” he said.
And with practice comes experience, reducing the time it takes to run through the process. A trained sniper can put accurate fire on at least 10 targets in about 10 minutes. It is actually something Army snipers have to do to graduate from the program.
For the extreme long-range shots, the shot process can still take some time, as well as some math. A Marine Corps sniper previously told Insider about a shot he took in training that involved putting a bullet in a target 2,300 meters away. It took him roughly 20 to 25 minutes to plan the shot.
Although shooting is a very important part of what snipers do, it is only a part. Snipers also gather intelligence and provide overwatch on the battlefield. The role requires professionalism, reliability, capability, and maturity.
“Just because you can shoot doesn’t mean you can be a sniper,” Walding said, adding that “You’ve got to have somebody that can get the job done, and not every marksman can.”