The commander of Canada's elite special forces says a record-breaking kill shot by one of his snipers in Iraq is "an incredible martial achievement" that has been independently verified and speaks to the quality of the country's soldiers.
Major-General Michael Rouleau told The Globe and Mail on Thursday that a sniper with Joint Task Force 2 – which is the army's top special forces unit – shattered the world military record with a confirmed kill at a distance of 3,540 metres.
"This is an incredible martial achievement. Achieving a confirmed sniper shot at this distance is unprecedented," Maj.-Gen. Rouleau said. "In this case, there was a digital record from another observation post, actually unknown to the sniper in question. I have reviewed it and it has been reviewed by some of our allies as well. This is an irrefutable act."
The world record was previously held by British sniper Craig Harrison, who shot a Taliban gunner with an Accuracy International rifle from 2,475 metres away in 2009.
Maj.-Gen. Rouleau would not provide details on the JTF2 sniper and his observer partner or where the sniper team was operating within Iraq, citing operational security.
The sniper team had spotted Islamic State fighters approaching Iraqi security forces, who were unaware that they were about to be ambushed. Using a McMillan TAC-50 rifle, the sniper did not expect to hit the target at such a distance, but hoped his "harassing fire" would frighten the enemy combatants to flee.
"But, as it turns out, owing to the skills of the observer-sniper team in question, they actually were able to kill one of the Daesh [Islamic State] fighters and the ensuing engagement disrupted the attack, allowing the Iraqi Security forces to continue the advance unmolested," Maj.-Gen. Rouleau said.
Maj.-Gen. Rouleau, a long-time JTF2 member, said special forces sniper teams undergo years of intense training that involve math, marksmanship and precision of weapons and ammunition. The sniper works with a spotter who directs the shooter to adjust to weather conditions such as wind and the curvature of the Earth.
"There is an element of art involved where the sniper actually has to estimate where the Daesh fighter is going to be, because when he pulls the trigger, there is just under 10 seconds of time of flight for the round," he said. "There is a lot of science involved in terms of the ballistic calculations but there is a subjective element of assessing what the winds are doing and whatnot."
Canada has a reputation among Western military forces for the skill of its snipers, despite the small size of the Canadian Armed Forces compared with the United States and Britain.
"While that sniper and observer are rightfully proud of what they accomplished, it could have been any number of people behind that weapon system given the quality that exists in the JTF2 sniper [group], and they are celebrating it as a team victory," Maj.-Gen. Rouleau said.
Canadian Corporal Rob Furlong had set the world record in 2002 at 2,430 metres when he gunned down an Afghan insurgent carrying an RPK machine gun during Operation Anaconda.
Weeks before, Canadian Master Corporal Arron Perry briefly held the world's best sniper record after he fatally shot an insurgent at 2,310 metres during the same operation. Both soldiers were members of the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
JTF2 special forces are primarily tasked with counter-terrorism, sniper operations and hostage rescue. Much of the information about this elite organization is classified and not commented on by the government. The unit's snipers and members of Canadian Special Operations Regiment, who are carrying out the main task of training Kurdish forces, have been operating in tough conditions in Iraq.
When the Trudeau government pulled CF-18 fighter jets out of Iraq in 2016, it increased the number special forces trainers to 207 from 69 in an assist, train and advise role.
Maj.-Gen. Rouleau said the JTF2 operation fell within the strictures of the government's advise and assist mission. Canadian soldiers are not authorized to engage in direct combat but they can fire their weapons to protect themselves or Iraqi soldiers they are assisting.
"We were offset from the fight itself from a significant distance. We saw partner forces that were in trouble and we assisted them," Maj.-Gen. Rouleau said. "We could have chosen to request for fire and dropped ordinances on the advancing Daesh elements, but when you are dropping a 100, 500 or 1,000 pounds of explosives, the potential to hurt civilians is much greater."