A world-record killing shot by a Canadian sniper detachment in Afghanistan could never have been made with the ammunition they were issued when they left Edmonton last winter, the triggerman said in a recent interview. The Canadian .50-calibre rounds have a maximum range of between 2,200 and 2,300 metres.
But the U.S. rounds, they discovered, "fly farther, faster," said Cpl. "Bill", a 26-year-old native of Fogo Island, Nfld.
The two-man Canadian team, coupled with American Sgt. Zevon Durham of Greenville, S.C., made the kill from 2,430 metres, or nearly 2 1/2 kilometres, on the second shot.
This feat is the equivalent of standing at the foot of Yonge St. and hitting a target in the intersection of Yonge and Wellesley Sts., just north of College St.
The first shot blew a bag from the hand of their target, an Al Qaeda fighter walking on a road.
"He didn't even flinch," said Bill, who spoke on condition that his real name not be used.
"We made a correction and the next round hit exactly where we wanted it to. Well, a bit to the right."
The kill, one of more than 20 unofficially accredited to Canadian snipers during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan's Shah-i-Kot Valley, beat the 35-year-old record of 2,500 yards, or 2,250 metres, set by U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock in Duc Pho, South Vietnam.
Soldier of Fortune magazine estimated the number of kills made by the Canadians after talking to several U.S. soldiers in Kandahar for a cover story in its August edition.
The snipers themselves will not confirm the figure.
But judging from accounts given by Canadians involved in the first major coalition offensive of the Afghan war, the figure of at least 20 sounds conservative.
The 800-strong 3rd battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry is pulling out this month.
They'll first go through a reintegration process on the Pacific island of Guam before heading home to Edmonton.
About 100 British Royal Marines, too, wrapped up their last combat mission in Afghanistan yesterday after four months in Afghanistan.
The five Canadian snipers, outfitted with British desert fatigues and an array of equipment from all over the world, were divided into two detachments that earned the respect of their American brothers-in-arms after helping rescue dozens of paratroopers pinned down by enemy fire.
The five have been nominated for one of the highest awards given by the United States military - the Bronze Star, two of them with Vs for Valour, marking exceptional bravery.
Awarding of the American medal, which was to have been done at a ceremony along with other Anaconda veterans in Kandahar in April, has been delayed by Canadian protocol officials.
But more important to the Canadians are the gestures from their American brethren who - while nearly killing them several times over with "friendly fire" - owe many lives to their shooting skills.
"They trusted us to do our job, without question," said Master Cpl. "James," a 31-year-old native of Kingsville, Ont., who like Cpl. Bill asked that his identity not be revealed.
At one point during a series of battles, one of the Canadians was without his rifle. Enemy bullets were hitting the earth all around. Mortars were dropping in front and behind them, some within 10 metres, bracketing their position and getting closer all the time. "They really hammered us," said Bill. He tried to get to their rifles but couldn't. Finally, an American sniper tossed him his rifle and said: "Here, you know how to use this better than I do."
They held off the enemy until darkness descended and escaped.
"They were instrumental in helping us achieve our goals out there," said 1st Lieut. Justin Overbaugh, 25, of Missoula, Mont., the soldier who recommended Bill and James for Bronze Stars.
"They are professionals; they are very good at what they do; they train hard, they are very mature, they are tactically and technically proficient so when it came time to do business, they were on," he said. "If they told me I was going out right now, I'd be begging, kicking, screaming, crying for them to come with us."
Bill and James said they pulled off several shots from 2,400 metres or more.
"Shots out that far are 60 per cent skill and 40 per cent luck, or vice versa," said Bill. "Usually, it takes two or three rounds, sometimes five. "Normally, a sniper wouldn't take that many shots, but they were out so far we felt confident they couldn't tell where we were."
One morning, the two Canadians were set up overlooking a compound when Al Qaeda fighters started "pouring out of buildings like ants." Bill started shooting while James called in a mortar attack, followed by B-52, F-16 and Apache helicopter strikes.
In a separate incident, Bill and James found themselves looking up at a large dark object screaming out of the sky directly above them - a 220-kilogram American bomb.
"We hit the deck and covered our heads with our hands," said James. The bomb landed 30 metres away, nose in, and never went off.
"By the grace of God, it was a dud," said Bill. "It landed 15 metres from the B company (U.S. 101st Airborne Division) trenches. A guy got up, walked out of the trench and kicked the thing."
Capt. Paul Madej, Operation Enduring Freedom chaplain, who debriefed the Canadians, described them: "The Canadian snipers are professional, well-trained soldiers who walked into harm's way and fulfilled their mission. They represent the best and they have our respect."
With files from Associated Press