Snipers always try to kill

Israel: "You see a woman with a gun: It doesn't matter. Shoot!"


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Herlinde Koelbl: What was it like shooting in the face when you first started training?

Nadav Wymann: In hand-to-hand combat training you learn: don't think, just react. They teach you how to recognize faces quickly and shoot them instantly. You see a man with a gun: Shoot! You see a woman with a gun: It doesn't matter, shoot! And when you're shooting from such a close range, you have to aim for the head. Always between the eyes. Because that is a place that you immediately recognize. And because that means certain death. You don't have a second chance. You train that over and over again, you don't do anything else for three weeks. All day, twenty, thirty practice units in a row. Approach, storm the house, comb through the room, shoot, shoot, shoot. Because in an emergency, in real time, you no longer think you are just acting. Instinctively. That's what they want to teach you, this instinct.

Koelbl: How was it when you killed your first terrorist?

Wymann: That was really tough. We were not yet fully trained, but our officer decided that we should go on a mission with ready-made snipers. So that we can see and learn something. There was an operation that night. Our train arrested some people in the refugee camp. We snipers were assigned to provide cover. So we sat on a hill and watched the operation. Suddenly someone climbs onto the roof, sits down and speaks on a radio or telephone. We snipers have orders to kill every so-called scout or lookout terrorist. He is not necessarily armed, but he reports to the terrorists where the Israeli army is attacking. I was an observer. I saw the man with my thermal imaging camera and reported to our supervisor by radio: We see a man, he is a lookout, and our officer replied: Okay, open fire! After the order to fire, I tell my comrades: distance, wind, storage, correct everything. It's very technical. Then I give the order - three, two, one, fire. And we shoot, and we immediately shoot again. There were only seconds, maybe five seconds, between my officer's go and our first shot. I had the camera and I saw the guy standing on the roof with the phone. It was crazy, because it went through my head: My God, he doesn't know that he only has seconds to live. But I. We shot from 520 meters away, which means he heard the shots before they hit him. He heard it pop. All these thoughts go through my head and I hear myself say: three, two, one, fire. Then my snipers shoot. And then he disappeared, fell down, that's it.

When we were back at the base, everyone said: Great! You killed a terrorist. But my team and I were totally in shock. You are trained there and you are told that the best you can do with the Special Forces is to kill a terrorist. But it was a completely unreal feeling to take someone's life. Especially because I knew he was unarmed. But now he's dead. And then I'll go home on the weekend to meet up with friends and family. But I don't want to tell anyone anything because I felt so uncomfortable. We shot an unarmed man.

Koelbl: And how was it the second time?

Wymann: The second time it was an armed man. I think he was a bad guy. It was easier because he had a gun and we fought him. Still - it meant killing someone. As an infantryman, you look, fight, and storm a house. The others fight you. It's a skirmish. But for us snipers, that's clean. You just sit there and wait - a long time until you finally have a man with a gun in your sights. Then suddenly he is there. And you want to prove that you are a good soldier. And then you shoot this person, this terrorist, this freedom fighter, I don't know what to call him. And you feel a certain pride. Really. You are really proud: I did something for my country. But after a day or two, the images go through your head, millions and millions of times. You think: Wait a minute, I'm a soldier in an army, very well trained and well armed. And he was a ... I'll call him a freedom fighter or something like that. Back then I could call him a terrorist. But he fought for his people. Just like I fight for my people. Maybe he wanted to kill civilians because he was a terrorist. But as a soldier I also kill civilians. So how do we differ? He has family and friends, a wife or girlfriend, just like me. At first you feel pride, but after a few days of reflection it goes away. After that you feel a great guilt in you.

Koelbl: How was that for you later? Was it normal just a job?

Wymann: Yes, it will be a purely technical matter. A job. We're very good snipers. Only once did we shoot, but not hit. We saw these two guys just about to fire a rifle grenade at a tank. They were very far away and there was a strong wind. So the conditions were unfavorable. My people fired and I saw that they missed. These two guys, the two Palestinians, escaped. It was crazy.

We returned to the base and were dismayed that we hadn't done our job. You don't think about the person on the other side. Rather, you think: I didn't do my job well. My God, how did that happen, we have to go back to the shooting range and practice again.

Koelbl: Does shooting give you a sense of power?

Wymann: If you pull the trigger and kill someone 700 meters away, that's a clean affair. You yourself are not at risk. And we believed we were invulnerable.