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:: Saturday, 2 July 2005 ::

UPDATE: On the death of Nicola Calipari & the non-death of Giuliana Sgrena

Back in May I wrote about this here and here.

Well, I got a fantastic thoughtful email from a reader, and he gave me permission to reproduce it here. I am so grateful and remiss for having left it so long.

It's kinda loike a fisking, but in a good way.

Bottom line for me? I think the Italians contributed to the awfulness.


Have youse got any idea how hard that is for me to admit? Whoa, I need to lie down.

I read your blog routinely ... But this is a case where I must disagree with you. It is also a case where it is obvious that you are using civilian criteria to judge a military situation. As an ex military fellow, please let me make a few comments.

Monday, May 02, 2005 ::

Calipari Lost his Life Needlessly

It is not a case of "blame" on a US soldier's "inexperience".

It is a case of:

The roadblock was on on a on-ramp at a tight curve without advance warning;
COMMENT: Soldiers do this. There was a tactical reason for this. You do it to prevent open fire lanes (hard to shoot round a corner), and to prevent those who may not wish to be searched or seized (like terrorists) having an opportunity to escape. A possible flaw with the roadblock was a lack of early warning, but they compensated by making their stop and shoot lines a goodly distance away, and using a flashlight-laser warning technique. Importantly, local topography is something you cannot change, you merely plan accordingly. Cars filled with explosives will have a harder time getting up to high speed on a curve. That is where I’d want to position a block, or a vehicle check point (VCP). I would want a suicide driver to have a bad sight line to where my people are, and a high workload when approaching me. More chance for him to screw up his approach. Secondly, if you have a sentry out in front, he is more vulnerable, because he is alone. Oh, he would still be covered by protective fire from the main position or an overwatch position, but you have to change sentries frequently, and movement like that is what gets your people killed. Finally, why on earth would you want to advertise your presence (or give terrorists a chance to evade) by advertising a road block of VCP? That makes no tactical sense.

The US troops manning the roadblock were meant to have been replaced but had had to remain in place over their allotted time because support was late getting to them;
COMMENT: That happens a lot in a war zone. Like he should have, 2nd LT Acosta had a back up plan, but this is not a significant factor in any case. 2nd LT Acosta’s group took over from 1st LT Daniels at 1930. The incident occurred only 75 minutes later "(U) At approximately 2045 hours the Soldiers at BP 541 were in the positions that they had been occupying since 1930 hours. They had successfully turned around 15-30 vehicles, with none getting more than a few meters beyond the Alert Line."

The one soldier who did the shooting was young and had not long completed his training for the role at the roadblock;
COMMENT: Soldiers tend to be young, and have been for some thousand of years. This is not really a relevant factor. Training is what counts. "Specialist Lozano was in his turret, his M240B (on which he had last qualified just five days before (Annex 6G)) pointed down and to his left at a grassy area with Specialist Peck in the driver’s seat in the blocking vehicle. Specialist Mejia was in the driver’s seat of the overwatch vehicle with Sergeant Domangue in the turret. Sergeant O’Hara was sitting in the rear passenger’s seat of the overwatch vehicle, cleaning his protective glasses. Staff Sergeant Brown, the acting Platoon Sergeant, was seeking to determine how much longer they were to remain in position. As such, he was standing with Second Lieutenant Acosta near the overwatch vehicle, their backs to the on-ramp. (Annexes 79C, 83C, 128C, 129C, 130C, 131C, 132C, 133C, 134C). None of the Soldiers knew that the Italians were coming. (Annexes 116C, 117C, 118C, 119C, 120C, 121C, 122C)."

In other words, Specialist Lozano had just completed his training, which means it was fresh in his mind and he had met proven standards for competence. His performance can easily be judged to be both professional and competent. This is to be expected in ANY all-volunteer professional western military force.

4. He fired 51 shots, 11 of wich hit the car and one or two of which killed Calipari.

COMMENT: He fired an M240B. (See http://www.armystudyguide.com/m240b/studyguide.htm). The cyclic rate of fire is 650-950 round per minute. So for every second the trigger is depressed, the weapon will fire 10.8 to 15.8 rounds. However, only an untrained person simply holds the triggers down and hoses away, because the barrel will overheat and distort (start to melt) within 90 seconds of cyclic fire. Well trained soldiers fire in ‘bursts’. As the guide states: What is the rapid rate of fire for the M240B? 200 Rounds per minute, barrel change every 2 minutes, 2-3 seconds between bursts . So he was using rapid rate firing but in a continuous burst (not 5-15 rounds – pause – 5-15 rounds). Again, this indicates very tight fire control and a professional and competent operator, because this is exactly how you fire short of a moving, closing target and try to ‘walk’ the fire in to the engine bay, avoiding the passenger cabin. You MUST keep up cyclic fire to do this ‘walking the fire’. 51 shots and 11 hit (21.5% hit rate at close range against a huge target. If he had been firing at the centre of seen mass, expect 80-90% of rounds on-target, all thru the passenger bay. The kid did pretty well in the seven seconds he had to assess, react, acquire the target, fire off target, and try to walk the fire in to the engine bay. EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, this is pretty close to proof that the Italian car was really moving fast. The distances match up, and this is the amount of time the vehicle was being engaged from the Warning Line until it stopped. Four seconds of cyclic rate fire at a 21.5% hit ratio is very good considering the circumstances. When the crap really goes down, it's VERY hard to take the finger off the trigger. Specialist Lozano did. That indicates very good training, and very good fire discipline.

No punishment for the US soldier? I understand why not. I do not believe he just shot up the car to kill the occupants. I do not want to believe that.

COMMENT: You are perfectly correct. All the evidence in the classified report indicates that Specialist Lozano did all within his training and experience to avoid unnecessary harm.

But I do believe this was a needless death.

COMMENT: Agreed. The critical point here is that nobody on the Italian side thought to inform the US military that they had a diplomatic-mission associated vehicle making a run down Route Irish. That was the fundamental error made here – and it was both stupid and unnecessary. The place is a declared war zone, for goodness’ sake!

Who puts a roadblock on an onramp at a tight curve without advance warning of its presence for drivers?

COMMENT: Already covered. When blocking a road, you block the on-ramps. They are usually curved. You cannot change that. You do not give people advance notice of this, nor do you advertise its precise presence. They DID emplace signs saying that the road was blocked, but no so as to provide targeting data on the block points. Note that all other vehicles that night were moving more slowly than the Italian vehicle must have been, were stopped in the appropriate place, and turned around. The Italian vehicle did not - WHY? Because Calipari was moving too fast, lacked situational awareness, was distracted by talking on a mobile, probably partially blinded by reflections from having the cabin light on, and also distracted by having Sgrena yammering away in the back.

And who leaves in charge of the roadblock just-out-of-training folks who have overstayed their assignment and need to be relieved?

COMMENT: Not in accordance with the facts as we know them. This WAS a relieving group. All military people at all levels are always in some form of training. That is what we do, train continually in a cycle, to keep skills high. You are at your best when just off training. Personal case: I am required to do two range days per annum, a day shoot and a day/night shoot. Each is a full day, running us through basic weapons performance, thru all the action and safety drills, stripping and cleaning etc, then a test, then out to the range, shoot to obtain a designated standard of competence in marksmanship, which is then reported. I think this is where much of your misunderstanding lies. Civilian training is: do the training, then do the job. If you don’t ever use the training, nobody cares much, you are still ‘trained’ no matter how much the skill has actually decayed. Military training is radically different: do the initial training, get in to the job, and repeat refresher training to maintain a certified skill level so the skills do not decay. For example, conversion on to the Australian F88 (Steyr 5.56mm assault rifle) is a 3 day course. Then you must do a ‘weapons handling test’ every 90 days, plus two range days per annum (both incorporate full refresher training on the F88, a handling test, and a marked range shoot).

Chalk up a lost life of a good man to another error of the Iraq liberation.

COMMENT: Yes, but the error lies in not informing the protecting powers in control of Route Irish that you were going to use it. This was stupid, and indicates a real level of amateurishness and ‘cowboy’ mentality. How did they expect to avoid attack by terrorists? They did not, they ‘chanced it’ and blew the risk management. Why did they not coordinate with the US military and obtain the force protection they provide routinely? On top of that, he (as Sgrena stated) was moving too fast, talking on the phone, had the light on, and had her in the back! No way he could maintain situational awareness at all. Stupid. Really stupid.

God, this is just awful - all prayers and wishes for Calipari and his family and friends. They have lost a good man when it need not have happened.

COMMENT: Yes, but the fault was in never telling the force protection people that you were there, not using their services, not maintaining situational awareness, not stopping when someone is both spotlighting and lasing you, and ignoring the stop signs that were emplaced on the stop lines. You just do not play amateur games in a war zone when the professionals are out and about doing their jobs. Because they will do their jobs properly, as trained.

:: W B 4:04 PM [+] ::

Your post is fine, we all agree that this should not have happened. Sgrena placed herself in danger by her own deliberate actions, her Government then bailed her out of the consequences of her own stupidity. But the operators on the ground failed to tell people they should have about the information they needed to know. Not ‘would have liked to know’, but ‘needed to know’. That is a critical difference. Those same operators then acted like amateurs in a situation that demanded cool professionalism. Bad move. I have since scanned the Italian report. It basically takes Sgrena’s word as gospel, but ignores many of her statements like "we were driving fast, nearly losing control in the puddles". She, by her own words in public, is a proven liar. You have shown this yourself on your blog. Please forgive me if I choose not to believe her testimony. I have spent time working with the US military. They do not lie. They DO screw it up, (could I tell you some tales…) they might not tell you everything, their PR people ‘spin’ things (and most real military people detest them for it), but I have never, ever seen them lie, especially in a written report. Their entire military ethos is against it, and they punish it very heavily – I’m talking dismissal in such a way that it ruins your future prospects in life, gaol time, etc. Sgrena is a bit of a bolshie, works for a left wing paper, and thinks that truth is relative. Her own words in public about this are all over the place. She has proven in public that she is extremely casual with the truth. The Italians acted like amateurs when calm professionalism was needed – and I do not understand that. They did not take advantage of available force protection, or even notify them of the transit. I cannot stress how breathtakingly stupid that was. And it bit them on the arse. They screwed up, as badly as you can screw up. I’d have the head of whoever approved that this activity be conducted in this way on a platter. Whoever let this happen in this way is the person responsible, because they approved a badly planned, appallingly risk-managed operation to be conducted by apparent amateurs in one of the most dangerous places inside a declared war zone. Stupid beyond belief– and that is why Calipari died.

A test of this: who would they blame if Calpari had been killed and Sgrena injured by terrorist gunfire in the same place, at the same time, assuming the US block was not there? I think they’d blame the US… for not protecting them!

The complete version of the US report is at: http://www.corriere.it/Media/Documenti/Unclassified.doc

Warmest Regards: Mark

Thanks for reading and writing, man. Makes blogging so worthwile.
:: WB 7:58 pm [link+] ::

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