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Book Review: Desert Sniper, by Ed Nash

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“Desert Sniper” is an autobiographical account of Ed Nash’s time fighting as a volunteer with Kurdish forces against ISIS in Syria in 2015 and 2016. Nash had been working as a volunteer with the Free Burma Rangers when he decided in 2015 that the growing list of ISIS atrocities demanded action. With his background in journalism and experience as a liaison for the FBR, he thought he could do some good helping to fight one of the most starkly evil groups the 21st century has yet seen. So, he boarded a plane to the middle east.

Kurdish organization being somewhat subpar, his skills as a journalist were not exploited, and instead he went to a sniper tabor (fighting unit) with a Dragunov, which would be his primary weapon for the rest of his time in country. His book describes the experience from start to finish, including insight into Kurdish culture and politics, training, tactics, and more. He worked with both Kurdish men and women (a substantial fraction of the Kurdish fighters and commanders were female) and with other foreign volunteers like himself and various Special Forces teams from coalition nations like France, the UK, and the US.

There are several things that I particularly appreciate about Nash’s work. First is its honesty and lack of either bravado or squeamishness. Today’s popular sensibilities insist that doing violence must inevitably damage a person psychologically, but this is not true. When one believes in the rightness of one’s actions, one can survive combat without becoming a psychological victim of it. There are certainly physiological exceptions like the prolonged shelling experienced by many in WW1 and the brain injuries caused by pressure waves associated with bomb blasts, but if we are to believe Nash (and I do), one can engage in lethal violence for a just cause and sleep well at night afterward.

On a more technical side, Nash’s journalism experience shows in his writing. The book is engaging and informative, and never left me bored. He gives the reader a feel for the wide variety of situations that he found himself in and the many people we developed relationships with during his time.

Finally, Nash has a good familiarity with firearms, and writings clearly and rationally about them. The guns themselves are not the focus of the book, but when they are relevant they are explained in a way that gun nerds will appreciate. As a sniper, Nash used a Dragunov primarily, but also carried an AK as a secondary rifle. He also had experience with the Zagros and Ser heavy rifles, and cogently explains their use. His descriptions of the range limitations of his SVD will certainly spark interest in readers who are shooters. In fact, Nash provided me with the photo and video material for a video about these Kurdish arms a while back, although I did not identify him by name at that time.

Anyway, this is an inexpensive book and I found it to be an excellent read. Men and women who volunteer to fight like Nash did ought to have their stories more widely known, and recognized for seeing a bad situation and doing something extremely concrete about it, despite often facing daunting legal situations upon their return home as a result.

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