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ICG Risk Blog - [ Nicola Calipari-Giuliana Sgrena incident report, part 2 ]

Nicola Calipari-Giuliana Sgrena incident report, part 2

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Part 1

 Route Irish has seen all the insurgent attack methods used in the theater of Operation:

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Unexploded IEDs, Hand Grenades, Indirect Fire (mortars, rockets, and unidentified indirect fire), Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs), Small Arms Fire (SAF), Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs), and Complex Attacks. The most common attacks along Route Irish are IEDs, VBIEDs, and SAF.

IEDs placed along Route Irish continue to evolve. Current techniques are:

  • Explosives positioned alongside guard rails. The large number of guard rails on the road make these devices difficult to detect and relatively easy to emplace by staging equipment in vehicles or near overpasses, and, in a matter of minutes, having the IED armed and in the desired location.
  • Explosives wrapped in a brown paper bag or a plastic trash bag. This is a particularly easy method of concealment, easy to emplace, and has been used effectively against Coalition Forces and civilians along Route Irish.
  • Explosives set on a timer. This technique is new to the Route Irish area, but is being seen more frequently.
  • Use of the median. The 50 meter wide median of Route Irish provides a large area for emplacing IEDs. These can be dug in, hidden, and/or placed in an animal carcass or other deceptive container.
  • Surface laid explosives. The enemy will drop a bag containing the explosive onto the highway and exit the area on an off-ramp with the detonation occurring seconds or minutes later depending on the desired time for the explosion.
  • Explosives on opposite sides of the median. Devices have been found along both sides of the median that were apparently designed to work in tandem, to counter Coalition Force tactics to avoid the right side of the highway while traveling Route Irish.
  • Explosives hidden under the asphalt. Insurgents pretend to do work on the pavement, plant the explosives, and repair the surface. These are usually remote-detonated devices.

Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) contain two types of car bombs, e.g., when the vehicle is moving (suicide) and when the vehicle is parked and stationary. Both can be either command or remote-detonated:

  • Multiple suicide vehicles. The first vehicle either creates an opening for a second, more powerful vehicle, or acts as bait to draw other personnel, such as medics and other first responders, into the kill zone of the first vehicle. As people respond, the second VBIED engages the responders.
  • Suicide VBIEDs are typically used against convoys, Coalition Force patrols, or Coalition checkpoints where they can achieve maximum damage. Such vehicles will rapidly approach the convoy from the rear and attempt to get in between convoy vehicles before detonating.
  • Stationary VBIEDs are typically parked along main supply routes, like Route Irish, and often have been found near known checkpoints. These are usually remotely operated and may be employed in conjunction with a suicide VBIED.
  • A particularly devious technique is for a driver to approach a checkpoint and claim that he has injured people in his vehicle. The VBIED is then detonated when Coalition Soldiers approach.

Recent incidents in the Vicinity of Checkpoint 541 prior to the Calipari-Sgrena did not bode well for an unannounced, high speed arrival:

  • Overpasses... are particularly susceptible to attacks. Such sites provide excellent early observation in all directions, easy escape routes, and high speed access to Route Irish.
  • Checkpoint 541 has been the site of 13 attacks between 1 November 2004 and early March 2005. Two of those attacks involved VBIEDs. Other attacks included mortars, small arms fire, and IEDs.
  • On the evening of the incident, there were at least two cases of small arms fire in the immediate vicinity, one before and one after the incident... This site is under the observation of insurgents in the adjoining housing complex and local neighborhoods anytime a position is established at Checkpoint 541.
  • The two adjoining Route Irish checkpoints, numbers 540 and 542, were also the target of attacks [including VBIEDs] during the 1 November 2004 to early March 2005 period.
  • [Two] days before the incident, two Soldiers from the same unit (1-69 IN) were killed by an IED at Checkpoint 543. The Commander, A Company, 1-69 IN lost a very close friend in that attack.

A difficult environment when US soldiers did not know that the Italians were coming ("Not coordinating with U.S. personnel was a conscious decision on the part of the Italians as they considered the hostage recovery an Intelligence mission and a national issue."), the Italians did not know that the on-ramp to Route Irish was blocked, the vehicle approached at a rate of speed higher than any other vehicle that night and refused to respond to a spotlight and laser pointer aimed on the windscreen as the vehicle closed on, and then passed, the warning line.

Gordon Housworth



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