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A BRITISH army sniper has set a new sharpshooting distance record by killing two Taliban machinegunners in Afghanistan from more than 2.4km away.
Craig Harrison, a member of the Household Cavalry, killed the insurgents with consecutive shots - even though they were more than 900m beyond the most effective range of his rifle. "The first round hit a machinegunner 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.
The distance to Harrison's two targets was measured by a GPS system at 2475m. The previous record for a sniper "kill" is 2430m, set by a Canadian soldier who shot dead an al-Qa'ida 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 from his skull. He later broke both arms when his army vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. Harrison was sent back to Britain for treatment, but insisted on returning to the front after making a full recovery.
Harrison, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was reunited in Britain with his family 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 4x4 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 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 1500m 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 machinegunner 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 he had set a new record only on his return to British 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 rifle.
The Sunday Times/The Australian