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This lack of trained snipers who could be used in civilian roles was later addressed with the founding of the specialized police counter-terrorist unit GSG 9.

German doctrine of largely independent snipers and emphasis on concealment developed during the Second World War have been most influential on modern sniper tactics, currently used throughout Western militaries (examples are specialized camouflage clothing, concealment in terrain and emphasis on coup d'œil).

Law enforcement snipers, commonly called police snipers, and military snipers differ in many ways, including their areas of operation and tactics.

A police sharpshooter is part of a police operation and usually takes part in relatively short missions.

Sometimes as part of a SWAT team, police snipers are deployed alongside negotiators and an assault team trained for close quarters combat.

As policemen, they are trained to shoot only as a last resort, when there is a direct threat to life; the police sharpshooter has a well-known rule: "Be prepared to take a life to save a life." The need for specialized training for police sharpshooters was made apparent in 1972 during the Munich massacre when the German police could not deploy specialized personnel or equipment during the standoff at the airport in the closing phase of the crisis, and consequently all of the Israeli hostages were killed.

The verb "to snipe" originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India in reference to shooting snipe, which was considered a challenging target for marksmen. According to figures released by the United States Department of Defense, the average number of rounds expended in the Vietnam War to kill one enemy soldier with the M-16 was 50,000. According to the United States Army, the average soldier will hit a man-sized target 10 percent of the time at 300 meters using the M16A2 rifle. Different countries use different military doctrines regarding snipers in military units, settings, and tactics.

Generally, a sniper's primary function in modern warfare is to provide detailed reconnaissance from a concealed position and, if necessary, to reduce the enemy's fighting ability by neutralizing high-value targets (especially officers and other key personnel) and in the process pinning down and demoralizing the enemy.

Snipers have increasingly been demonstrated as useful by US and UK forces in the recent Iraq campaign in a fire support role to cover the movement of infantry, especially in urban areas.

In most recent combat operations occurring in large densely populated towns, such as Fallujah, Iraq, two teams would be deployed together to increase their security and effectiveness in an urban environment.

A sniper is a marksman or qualified specialist who operates alone, in a pair, or with a sniper team to maintain close visual contact with the enemy and shoot enemies from concealed positions or distances exceeding the detection capabilities of enemy personnel.

Snipers typically have highly-selective or specialized training and use crew-served high-precision/special application rifles and optics, and often have sophisticated communication assets to feed valuable combat information back to their units or military bases.

A sniper must be highly trained in long range rifle marksmanship and field craft skills to ensure maximum effective engagements with minimum risk.