How are sniper kills confirmed?

Author: Eric Sof

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In modern conflicts, from to time, you might read about a long sniper shot, but did you ever thought about how sniper kills are confirmed? In the world of war, if you look realistically, there are no confirmed or unconfirmed kills. The whole thing is a misconception, a hoax, and a myth, and it’s my opinion. You can accept it or not, but here is an explanation.

Introduction

It is important to note that the concept of “confirmed” or “unconfirmed” kills is largely a matter of record keeping and does not reflect the reality of warfare. In actual combat, it is often difficult or impossible to determine whether a shot resulted in a kill.

But, if you still want to know what is considered a confirmed or unconfirmed kill, here is an explanation. A confirmed kill is when you shoot somebody, and someone else was there to witness it. An unconfirmed kill is when you shoot somebody, and either no one was there to witness it, or you aren’t sure if it was really who killed them. Sometimes, a kill may be confirmed through forensic evidence or by analyzing the shot’s trajectory.

How are sniper kills confirmed?

The only way to confirm your kills is to ask your enemy how many guys they have lost at a certain place and time. This, of course, is impossible. So the military draft confirmed kills from the reports of their snipers. And the answer to how sniper kills are confirmed in the military is easy.

So a so-called “confirmed kill” is when a sniper self-reports (be it in after-action reports or some other fashion, since there aren’t always after-action reports of this nature) that they killed a target and some second person (including a spotter or another soldier, or a civilian, etc.) witnessed the killing. It’s a term without official status and no apparent confirmation beyond the self-report of the sniper.

What’s not clear is whether the supposed witnesses are identified in these reports and whether anyone bothers to check with them to confirm the report is accurate. Since the military says they don’t keep official or unofficial tallies of such things, it’s possible to make a reasonable assumption that they do not double-check the reported kills (unless perhaps a high-value target and they need to confirm the target is dead, then maybe they do more investigation of the reported kill).

How are sniper kills confirmed?
How are sniper kills confirmed? (Photo: Wiki)

Controversies

Even the most serious military organizations tend to overestimate the damage they have caused in battle completely. Same as they are doing with the sniper kills. Here are some examples:

  • During the NATO air campaign in Kosovo, NATO initially claimed that they had destroyed 120 enemy tanks. After the war, however, they had to (rather quietly) admit that this number was far too high and that they didn’t destroy more than 14 tanks and 18 armored vehicles.
  • The German Air Force in World War II, the Luftwaffe, constantly gave false kill claims. This was so bad that the German Army’s propaganda detachment complained about these bogus numbers. In reality, Luftwaffe confirmed kills were 50% lower than originally claimed.
  • Germany’s highest decorated soldier in WWII, Stuka ace Hans Ullrich Rudel, was despised by his own comrades for claiming kills that couldn’t be confirmed. As he was a hardcore Nazi, the German government loved him and accepted his claims. The same is true for many “success stories” of the Waffen-SS. Most of it was exaggerated.
  • During the Battle of Kursk, the Russian military claimed to have destroyed at least 200 tanks at a certain village. German military high command compared this number with their own statistics and stated that the real number was “one or two German tanks”. The Soviet military had a 250:1 ratio regarding pretended kills to real ones.

Chris Kyle, America’s most famous sniper, wrote some controversies in his book according to the media and witnesses who served at the same time as he did. He even wrote false claims about his military record regarding which medals he had received. His confirmed kills are most probably not exactly clear.

Retired Navy SEAL Chris Kyle killed in Texas
Chris Kyle, a retired Navy SEAL and bestselling author of the book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History”, holds a .308 sniper rifle in this April 6, 2012. In his book, he described how sniper kills are confirmed (Photo: Paul Moseley)

The same goes for modern conflicts. During the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, most of the fighters observed that their kills could never be established. You can hardly go there and check the enemy soldier’s pulse if you shoot someone. Therefore, a typical confirmed kills account of a soldier sounded more like “between one or two and fifty.”

This is especially true for modern wars by global powers and their soldiers. To claim that a certain sniper has an exact number of kills is nonsense.

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