A BRITISH Army sniper has set a new sharpshooting distance record by killing two Taliban machine gunners in Afghanistan from more than a mile away.
Craig Harrison, a member of the Household Cavalry, killed the insurgents with consecutive shots — even though they were 3,000ft beyond the most effective range of his rifle.
“The first round hit a machine gunner in the stomach and killed him outright,” said Harrison, a Corporal of Horse. “He went straight down and didn’t move.
“The second insurgent grabbed the weapon and turned as my second shot hit him in the side. He went down, too. They were both dead.”
The shooting — which took place while Harrison’s colleagues came under attack — was at such extreme range that the 8.59mm bullets took almost three seconds to reach their target after leaving the barrel of the rifle at almost three times the speed of sound.
The distance to Harrison’s two targets was measured by a GPS system at 8,120ft, or 1.54 miles. The previous record for a sniper kill is 7,972ft, set by a Canadian soldier who shot dead an Al-Qaeda gunman in March 2002.
In a remarkable tour of duty, Harrison cheated death a few weeks later when a Taliban bullet pierced his helmet but was deflected away from his skull. He later broke both arms when his army vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
Harrison was sent back to the UK for treatment, but insisted on returning to the front line after making a full recovery.
“I was lucky that my physical fitness levels were very high before my arms were fractured and after six weeks in plaster I was still in pretty good shape,” he said. “It hasn’t affected my ability as a sniper.”
Harrison, from Gloucestershire, was reunited in Britain with his wife Tanya and daughter Dani, 16, last month. Recalling his shooting prowess in Helmand province, he said: “It was just unlucky for the Taliban that conditions were so good and we could see them so clearly.”
Harrison and his colleagues were in open-topped Jackal 4×4 vehicles providing cover for an Afghan national army patrol south of Musa Qala in November last year. When the Afghan soldiers and Harrison’s troop commander came under enemy fire, the sniper, whose vehicle was further back on a ridge, trained his sights on a Taliban compound in the distance. His L115A3 long-range rifle, the army’s most powerful sniper weapon, is designed to be effective at up to 4,921ft and supposedly capable of only “harassing fire” beyond that range.
“We saw two insurgents running through its courtyard, one in a black dishdasha, one in green,” he said. “They came forward carrying a PKM machinegun, set it up and opened fire on the commander’s wagon.
“Conditions were perfect, no wind, mild weather, clear visibility. I rested the bipod of my weapon on a compound wall and aimed for the gunner firing the machinegun.
“The driver of my Jackal, Trooper Cliff O’Farrell, spotted for me, providing all the information needed for the shot, which was at the extreme range of the weapon.”
Harrison killed one machine gunner with his first attempt and felled the other with his next shot. He then let off a final round to knock the enemy weapon out of action.
Harrison discovered that he had set a new record only on his return to UK barracks nine days ago. The previous record was held by Corporal Rob Furlong, of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who was using a 12.7mm McMillan TAC-50 rifle.
Tom Irwin, a director of Accuracy International, the British manufacturer of the L115A3 rifle, said: “It is still fairly accurate beyond 4,921ft, but at that distance luck plays as much of a part as anything.”
News of Harrison’s success comes amid concern over a rival insurgent sharpshooter who in a five-month spree has killed up to seven British soldiers, including a sniper, in and around the Taliban stronghold of Sangin.
In a later incident during the tour, Harrison’s patrol vehicle was hit 36 times during a Taliban ambush. “One round hit my helmet behind the right ear and came out of the top,” he said. “Two more rounds went through the strap across my chest. We were all very, very lucky not to get hurt.”