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The Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History

His one regret about his kill total: he didn’t shoot more bad guys.

by
David Forsmark

Bio

March 31, 2012 - 12:01 am

It was the first time I’d killed anyone while I was on the sniper rifle. And the first time in Iraq —and the only time — I killed anyone other than a male combatant. It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it. The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn’t take any Marines with her.

It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn’t care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child. . . . She was too blinded by evil to consider them. She just wanted Americans dead, no matter what.

My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul. I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day.

Kyle makes no bones about the fact that he feels — whatever the wisdom of the overall mission or the merits of America’s Iraqi allies — that the fight in Iraq was against evil, and protecting innocents and American combatants against that evil gave him a deep satisfaction:

Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy “savages.” There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there.

Kyle does not put himself in the category of Carlos Hathcock — who, after all, battled a far more skilled foe in a far more difficult terrain. In fact, he is quite modest about his own abilities, saying he wasn’t even the best shot in his own SEAL sniper training class. But like an infielder with an instinct for where the next ground ball is going, Kyle was “lucky enough to be positioned directly in the action.”

“Lucky?” He made his own luck.

Unlike the Hathcock book and Shooter, Marine sniper Jack Coughlin’s memoir of being at the top of the Marine kill list in Iraq, Kyle doesn’t spend a lot of time on sniper tactics. Shooting geeks will have to look elsewhere for those details.

And, unlike most SEAL memoirs, his book doesn’t detail his training and how hard “Hell Week” was. This is more a work about the warrior ethos and — surprisingly and poignantly — the toll his constant deployment takes on Kyle’s wife Taya, who contributes her own first-person perspective at various points in the narrative.

The closest Kyle comes to the kind of tactical talk that fills most sniper volumes is when he tells the one way SEAL snipers operate differently than those in the other services. According to Kyle, SEALs often would attract attention so that he and his colleagues could kill the bad guys that came running.

Nor was Kyle the kind of guy who took comfort in the fact that he usually could kill from a very long distance and not get into the mix of things. When he was deployed with Marines in Fallujah, for instance, he figured he should be helping the Marines kick down doors. After all, he was a SEAL before he was a sniper, and that was specifically something he was better trained for than they were. He writes:

I also knew that I would be in a s***load of trouble if I did get hurt — going down on the streets was not what I was supposed to be doing, at least from an official point of view. It was definitely right—what I felt I had to do — but it would severely p**s the top brass off. But that would be the least of my problems if I got shot, wouldn’t it?

The combat stories in American Sniper range from first-hand accounts of heavy fighting to the poignant stories of victims and brutality, to the macabrely humorous. One time, Kyle recounts, foreign insurgents in body armor tried to cross a river paddling behind brightly colored large beach balls. He foiled their scheme by shooting the balls one at a time.

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